Monday, April 20, 2009

Tom Brokaw says crisis should be catalyst for consolidation of counties, small-state functions

The economic crisis should prompt consolidation of local governments and small-state functions, Tom Brokaw of NBC News writes for The New York Times' op-ed page. His examples range from New York, where a state commission determined that consolidation could save the state more than $1 billion, to North Dakota and his native South Dakota, where Brokaw says that 17 universities for 1.5 million people in two states could better use their money by consolidating administrations into one university system with satellite campuses. (New York Sun photo)

Brokaw's example of Iowa's 99 counties for 3 million residents could be repeated for a number of states. Nebraska has more counties per capita than any state, and Kentucky is second. "Each one houses a full complement of clerks, auditors, sheriff’s deputies, jailers and commissioners," he writes. "Is there any reason beyond local pride to maintain such duplication given the economic and population pressures of our time?"

Chase Martyn of the Iowa Independent replies, "The answer to Brokaw’s question may very well be “no,” but that doesn’t mean he will get his way anytime soon. In many small towns across Iowa, local pride is all that keeps communities going. If you shut down the courthouse and a few schools in one of the smaller county seat towns here, many fear the town could evaporate in a matter of only a few years. ... A few towns would almost certainly die, and no politician wants to be responsible for that." The same could be said of every state with a plethora of counties.

Brokaw quotes General Electric Chairman Jeffrey Immelt as saying the economic crisis is "a reset" that should include fundamental changes in American institutions. "If this is a reset, it’s time to reorganize our state and local government structures for today’s realities rather than cling to the sensibilities of the 20th century," Brokaw wrotes. "If we demand this from General Motors, we should ask no less of ourselves." (Read more)


Landra Lewis said...

Brokaw is right on target. A poor state like KY should not be financing 120 county governments. But who will have the guts to consolidate counties and destroy these little fiefdoms?

Anonymous said...

In one of the depressed areas of Virginia, the school board proposed consolidating two high schools because of the reduced enrollment associated with loss of jobs. WWIII almost broke out. Consolidation would have enabled the county to offer more AP classes and reduce cost. Citizens objected so strongly that it did not happen.