With last week’s conclusion of the annual strategy session in Montgomery by our 140 field middle-managers, it’s time to evaluate where this 193-year-old institution stands.
We are sad to report that the same time-wasting that has bogged down so many previous sessions deviled our representatives and senators once more this year. With four months in which to set policy, these managers squandered much of that time. Then, like a college kid cramming for a final exam, representatives spent the final day rushing around like mad to do the work they should have been focusing on since January.
The work product was a mixed bag of good ideas, very bad ones and others that look like micro-managing the affairs of local governments. Could it have been worse? Yes. Could it be better? Absolutely.
One lesson our field reps need to learn comes from the western side of our football division. It produced yet another national title in January. This Tuscaloosa-based enterprise has won three of the last four national championships. Interestingly, the other crown in that four-year stretch was won by our Auburn-based program on the east side of the state.
Tuscaloosa’s success can be summed up by noting the return on investment. Nick Saban, the Tuscaloosa CEO, earns top dollar among his peers, yet, as evidenced by the overflowing trophy closet at the University of Alabama, this investment has produced fantastic dividends. We’ve seen expanding venues, fawning publicity and unlimited potential for future success all because of a generous outlay of cash to the right chief executive.
With regret, we must inform our shareholders and other interested parties that this spend-to-gain strategy has not taken hold across most of our other divisions. Our corporate-policy retreat in Montgomery produced a budget for the upcoming year that is a testament to wishful thinking. Without sufficient capital to produce the results our shareholders expect, the budget-writers are instead counting on a miracle, or rather a whole string of miracles. If we are once again disappointed with the results, our best hope is that some learning takes place among those managers who annually seek to run this place on the cheap.
You don’t get what you don’t pay for. That wisdom holds fast, yet our managers who are policymakers seem driven to defy this truism.
Because of this miserly approach, our prisons division is at risk of a hostile takeover from the feds. With twice the inmates as there is housing space, an already bad situation continues to worsen. A takeover would be an awful outcome as a mass release of inmates will likely be the result.
The public-safety sector is looking at more hard times. With budget cutbacks, crime lab closures and courthouse layoffs from recent years already taking their toll, the state’s Chief Justice Roy Moore warned that another 150 layoffs are looming this October. The culprit, Moore says, is a shortage of funds in the 2014 budget.
As Alabama Inc. shareholders already understand, each cut in courts and public safety operations makes our homes, neighborhoods, schools and streets less safe, and that is bad for business.
The good news for most employees in the education division is that they will receive a 2 percent raise, the first such increase in pay since 2008.
The challenging part is that our Montgomery reps wasted a lot of time trying to clarify an education division initiative they called the Alabama Accountability Act. After an initial agreement to launch the project, they spent two-and-a-half months working out the specifics. Label it another “Ready, fire, aim” mistake.
Another highlight for education is that a challenge to the Common Core standards failed, meaning the Alabama schools will be in a better position to train our future workforce.
In another bright sign, shareholders interested in campaign finance will soon be able to track who’s giving and who’s getting through a much more efficient system. We expect this will allow us to keep a better eye on the sort of potential influence-peddling that always seems to sell out the shareholders most in need of help.
To sum it up, Alabama Inc. plans to spend $7.47 billion in fiscal year 2014. That’s a lot of money, though by most reasonable measures it’s not enough to keep up with demand. Consequently, our short-term prospect for growth looks bleak. We continue to squander so much potential of Alabama’s Inc.’s most precious resource — its people.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.