Do The Math

June 23rd, 2011

The annual budget equation: subtract some things that work, add many things that don’t, multiply by the number of times you can get your name published, divide by political position, adjust for inflated ego, pander by a factor of four, increase by a number equal to the cost of all of the above and then decrease by a greater number the actual dollars available, add one-time bandaids, subtract long-term gain, and then do pretty much nothing progressive.

Sharpen your pencils. This problem tests us all.

As published in The Daily News, June 24, 2011, and in The Memphis News, June 25-July 1, 2011

Math Teacher


When our son was in the tenth grade at White Station, he had a substitute math teacher one semester. He was called out of retirement to teach the class and he was older than Copernicus. I know this because I thought he was already 100 when he taught me … or tried to teach me … trigonometry at White Station decades before.

Seems Gaines had been up to something in class and he was hauled out into the hall for behavioral instruction.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Gaines Conaway”

“Conaway … wait a minute … are you related to Danny Conaway?”

“Yes sir, he’s my Father.”

“That explains it. Go on back in there, son, you can’t help it. He was a smartass, too.”

True enough. And since it’s become obvious that some local elected officials are lacking in basic mathematical skills, it’s time for some smartass instruction.

Among many examples, the sad proposal to defund the Office of Early Childhood and Youth illustrates the problem. Never mind that it didn’t pass. The fact that it came up at all, that all that time and ink was so shamefully wasted on it instead of spent solving our difficult equations is the point.

Take Wyatt Bunker, Terry Roland and Henri Brooks – please – who would give up six million to save $450,000  – and the other visionaries who would turn a blind eye to infant deaths, teen pregnancies and critical early childhood development in return for a sound bite and catered lunches. They either used our children to make a political statement, or as a racially charged bargaining chip, or they can’t add. Or all of the above.

If you spend $450,000 to help babies and you get $6,000,000 of grants to help, that’s a profit of $5.5 million to local taxpayers, not to mention a decent start for a generation that could be lost. That’s a 1,200% return, Wyatt. At about $35 a pop in your gas station, Terry, that’s around 157,000 oil changes. At that lean level of local funding, Henri, you’re going to find very few jobs for your friends.

And can we please stop this churches and clubs to the rescue silliness?

With church membership and attendance down across denominations in the face of increasing need and decreasing contributions, turning our problems over to churches won’t bring enough down front. They have enough to say grace over. Amen.

With both challenged attendance and participation in peas-and-chicken circuit stalwarts like Rotary and Kiwanis, with more worthwhile projects than their budgets are worth, the naive assumption that our civic needs can be met by civic organizations is as out of date as Cotton Carnival. That notion should fail for lack of a second.

We need real solutions to real challenges, real calculations to provide vital services and infrastructure instead of calculating politicians using taxpayer dollars to buy votes and local government as an employment agency.

I’m a Memphian, and we’ve elected to use too many zeroes in this equation.



Brad: Unfortunately, that kind of math does not just occur in Memphis. That disease has spread to many parts of the country. I wish I knew the cure for it.

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