Florida Drug Testing Program for Welfare Recipients not Working as Promised

It would be nice if policies were assessed in terms of costs and benefits.

Via the NYTNo Savings Are Found From Welfare Drug Tests

a Florida law requiring drug tests for people who seek welfare benefits resulted in no direct savings, snared few drug users and had no effect on the number of applications, according to recently released state data.

[…]

From July through October in Florida — the four months when testing took place before Judge Scriven’s order — 2.6 percent of the state’s cash assistance applicants failed the drug test, or 108 of 4,086, according to the figures from the state obtained by the group. The most common reason was marijuana use. An additional 40 people canceled the tests without taking them.

Because the Florida law requires that applicants who pass the test be reimbursed for the cost, an average of $30, the cost to the state was $118,140. This is more than would have been paid out in benefits to the people who failed the test, Mr. Newton said.

As a result, the testing cost the government an extra $45,780, he said.

Now, granted, we are talking about a four month period and one might argue that the program might worked as intended over a longer period of time, although I am not sure upon what one would base such a claim.

Really what we see here is at least two things.  First is that often attempts at dealing with “fraud and waste” can cost more than the fraud and waste itself.  Second, policies are often implemented based not on actual cost/benefit analysis, but rather on nothing more than guesses.  Really:  there is a high likelihood that some number of recipients of aid are behaving in ways that the general public would not like.  However, there is a very real question of whether rooting out that bad behavior is worth the cost of so doing.  It is like understandable complaints about the way some food stamp recipients use their benefits.  Sure, there are abuses, but is it worth costs needed to stop such abuses?  Of course, such questions require dispassionate and rational assessments of policy instead of sensationalism, moralizing, or outrage!

Further, those guesses are often coupled with other motivations even when the supposed reason for the policy is savings.  To wit:

supporters of the law said four months of numbers did little to discredit an effort they said was based on common sense. Drug users, no matter their numbers, should not be allowed to use taxpayer money, they said.

“We had to stop allowing tax dollars for anybody to buy drugs with,” said State Representative Jimmie T. Smith, a Republican who sponsored the bill last year. Taxpayer savings also come in deterring those drug users who would otherwise apply for cash assistance but now think twice because of the law, some argued.

As a generic proposition I can fully understand the notion of not wanting to subsidize persons who are engaging in illegality.  On the other what is really more important:  trying to micro-manage a handful of persons or running the program with an appropriate assessment of costs and benefits for given policy choices?

As a side note, it seems that there is a bit of drug-testing mania in Florida:

Last month, Mr. Scott signed into law another drug testing measure, this one permitting state agencies to randomly test up to 10 percent of their employees. The tests can be conducted every 90 days and agencies can fire or discipline employees if they test positive for drugs.

While I can accept the notion of testing for positions of persons engaged in potentially dangerous activities (e.g., pilots) but I don’t see the rationale for random testing of the entire state workforce.  This strikes me as both an undo invasion of privacy as well as likely costing more than it is worth.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. John Peabody says:

    Heh. Before I left the Army in 2004, they randomly tested 10% of our unit every month.




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  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Of course it was working – the testing companies were making lots of money as planned. That was the only purpose to begin with.




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  3. legion says:

    “Promised” is the key word here – this program was always built on a heap of unabashed lies. I suspect the program _is_ working as _intended_ however – to humiliate and degrade anyone in poverty or unemployment. And make money for the Governor’s friends who get paid to run the ineffective tests. That’s all it was ever actually _meant_ to do.




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  4. Scott says:

    Aren’t Republicans supposed to “run government like a business”? Doesn’t that include cost-benefit analysis? Pointing out hypocrisy gets so tedious.




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  5. Hey Norm says:

    This was never about money…this is about invading others privacy and treating them as second class citizens. Scott is a Republican poster boy…and a disgusting excuse for an American.




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  6. mattb says:

    Again, this is an example of how Moral Panics lead to bad legislation.

    It also is a great example of why so many of us are against other moral panic legislation like Voter ID.




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  7. @John Peabody: Well, given that guns are regularly involved with army activities, I find that less concerning. 😉




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  8. @Ron Beasley:

    Of course it was working – the testing companies were making lots of money as planned. That was the only purpose to begin with.

    It’s also successfully humiliating the poor, so it also acheives the objective of allowing certain portions of society to express how much they hate other portions.




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  9. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Its was a stupid policy to begin with. Drugs cost money. Lots of money. The financial qualifications for food stamp eligibility are prohibitive against people with the amount of money needed to fuel a drug habit. The conclusion – that it is actually costing the state money to stamp out fraud and abuse – is like saying that water is wet or that modern Republicans are bullies.




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  10. WR says:

    Apparently you just don’t understand. This is Freedom From Big Government.




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  11. al-Ameda says:

    The should drug test the Florida Legislature every day




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  12. Anonne says:

    It is working exactly as intended. It gives Rick Scott wingnut cred, and it pays his preferred testing company. Screw the actual cost to taxpayers. In this instance, the Cheney rule applies: “deficits don’t matter.”




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  13. I like that people still pretend this was to actually save money. I honestly believe the intention of the drug testing law is simply nothing more than “I don’t like welfare recipients, so let’s screw with them as much as possible”.




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  14. Jim M says:

    I take issue with this assertion: “Second, policies are often implemented based not on actual cost/benefit analysis, but rather on nothing more than guesses.”

    That may be true some of the time. But it’s clear to me in this case the guiding principles behind these policies weren’t guesses. They were dog whistles. Deeply embedded dog whistles about welfare recipients. And it’s about beating up a small minority of our citizens for votes.

    2.6% tested positive. The DOJ estimates that 8 percent of full-time and 10.2 percent of part-time employees abuse illegal drugs. So these folks are less likely to be using drugs than the folks I encounter any given day at work.




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  15. Rob in CT says:

    Wasn’t the FL governor connected to the drug testing company? I forget where I saw that allegation.




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  16. Rob in CT says:

    Google is my friend:

    http://www.palmbeachpost.com/money/gov-rick-scotts-drug-testing-policy-stirs-suspicion-1350922.html

    If that’s accurate, it could be that this policy is working exactly as intended, Steven.




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  17. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Good blog post.

    I think a few points are worth mentioning:

    1. Definitely there must be a CBA for these types of bills, if not beforehand — which largely would be pure speculation — then following implementation. Spending tens of thousands extra to save thousands doesn’t make sense.

    Perhaps random testing is a better approach than testing the entire population of recipients? Perhaps the sample size could be reduced and more effectively targeted by focusing on those with prior drug convictions?

    2. How many layers of irony are present when the political left objects to a program on the grounds that it involves additional government spending?

    3. I can see a lot of merit in the underlying concept of drug testing social welfare recipients, but to me the larger and more important point is that we need further to reduce to rolls from the get-go. Rather than drug testing every applicant I further would tighten up eligibility standards.

    4. I don’t know anything about Florida labor and employment law, but random drug testing for all existing state employees, with no cause, strikes me as something that at best is very questionably legal. I presume Scott’s legal team knows what it’s doing, but then again presumptions about GOP legal teams often turn out to have been quite presumptuous.




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  18. al-Ameda says:

    @Christopher Bowen:

    “I don’t like welfare recipients, so let’s screw with them as much as possible”.

    I believe that was the original name for the legislation.




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  19. Console says:

    It’s necessary for the emotional well-being of privileged people that they see economics as a morality play. If your belief is that poor people tend to be poor because they make bad decisions then of course a law like this is common sense.




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  20. Chefmarty says:

    Oh the benefits are there, alright, just not for the people of Florida – the major supplier of drug testing services, Solanic, is owned by none other than Gov. Rick Scott.




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  21. Hey Norm says:

    Nick never fails to crack me up.
    First he fires of the Democrats are profilgate spenders meme:

    “…. How many layers of irony are present when the political left objects to a program on the grounds that it involves additional government spending?”

    And then follows up by throwing the concept of individual liberty and the Constitutionaly guaranteed protection from unreasonable searches…allegedly beloved by Republicans…right under the friggin’ bus…

    “…I can see a lot of merit in the underlying concept of drug testing social welfare recipients…”

    I guess irony is in the eye of the beholder.




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  22. PJ says:

    @Christopher Bowen:

    “I don’t like welfare recipients, so let’s screw with them as much as possible”.

    It’s the same reason why Romney forced single mothers (don’t forget, raising kids is the most important job) on welfare to get out and work even if it cost the state money.




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  23. cian says:

    Solanic, is owned by none other than Gov. Rick Scott.

    If this is the case how is it Stephen failed to mention it? That the guy pushing the legislation is the one set to profit the most from its implementation should have been the opening paragraph of Stephen’s post. That it isn’t says everything about the points that follow.




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  24. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II:

    Definitely there must be a CBA for these types of bills, if not beforehand — which largely would be pure speculation — then following implementation. Spending tens of thousands extra to save thousands doesn’t make sense.

    I get where you are going here, but one quibble: Most CBA’s are done beforehand. It’s not speculation, it’s planning. It would be similar to saying “We should definitely stress test this bridge after we build it. Beforehand would be speculation.”

    Perhaps random testing is a better approach than testing the entire population of recipients? Perhaps the sample size could be reduced and more effectively targeted by focusing on those with prior drug convictions?

    If a politician was hell-bent on drug testing welfare recipients as an election issue, this would be at least a more cost-effective way of doing it. Considering how low (nonexistent) the benefit is, the cost still outweighs the benefit. This would significantly lower the cost though.




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  25. Moosebreath says:

    TN,

    “2. How many layers of irony are present when the political left objects to a program on the grounds that it involves additional government spending?”

    Zero. Unlike whatever you heard on Rush, the political left generally is not in favor of spending money for the sake of spending money, but only if it cures some problem that the free market is not doing. It’s roughly as accurate as saying the political right believes that the correct tax rate is zero.




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  26. Rob in CT says:

    Indeed, a left-leaning person has reason to care about waste: dollars wasted cannot be spent on improving the welfare of the population. Piss away $$ on something stupid (this, a moronic war, whatever) and you can’t feed the hungry as well, care for the sick as well, and so on.




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  27. @Moosebreath:

    How many layers of irony are present when the political left objects to a program on the grounds that it involves additional government spending?

    One thing that has become clear to me: TN has a highly unsophisticated understanding of the concept of “the left.”




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  28. Hey Norm says:

    Um…Moose…

    “… It’s roughly as accurate as saying the political right believes that the correct tax rate is zero…”

    Have you ever heard of Grover Norquist? The guy that has 95% of Republican congress-people and Mitt Romney by the short-hairs? He said:

    “…We functioned in this country with government at eight percent of GDP for a long time and quite well…”

    Eight ain’t zero…but it’s closer to zero than it is to reality. Norquist also said about Romney:

    “…We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. … We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate…”

    Yes…the same House and Senate where Norquist has 95% of the caucus by their attachments.
    8% of GDP. Think about it.




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  29. Rick Almeida says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II:

    Your arguments here are pretty reasonable, but I think there’s a policy-related argument that doesn’t get addressed by supporters of drug testing schemes.

    As I understand it, most US social welfare policies are geared toward providing a certain minimum amount of resources for the care and feeding of children, like WIC, child care subsidies, Head Start, Section 8 housing, etc.

    If individuals who have dependent children are removed from these programs, how are the policy consequences not worse than the original “problem”?




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  30. danimal says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II: ” but to me the larger and more important point is that we need further to reduce to rolls from the get-go. Rather than drug testing every applicant I further would tighten up eligibility standards.”
    This is just ridiculous. Welfare rolls, across the nation, have been trending down, even during the most severe recession in 70 years. States are in a race to the bottom already. Welfare recipients are getting crumbs, and even the crumb rations are being reduced. This FL law is essentially an application fee: pay for your drug test and get the money back if you’re clean. Just another expensive hurdle for impoverished citizens to harass and frustrate them; rules like this are common for welfare recipients. Further tightening will accomplish what, exactly?

    When defense and prison contractor executives are required to piss test for public money, I’ll believe it’s about safety, or money, or whatever. Until then, laws like this are just legal harassment for the poor, a discouragement along the lines of requiring unnecessary ultrasounds for women requesting abortions.




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  31. Socrates says:

    “While I can accept the notion of testing for positions of persons engaged in potentially dangerous activities (e.g., pilots)”

    Drug testing is not about testing to see if someone is impaired NOW. Drug testing is about whether or not people have been using drugs at sometime in the past. If you smoked some pot 2 weeks ago on the weekend, you could test positive two weeks later on Monday, but that would have nothing to do with whether or not you can fly a plane right now.

    If we want to know if someone can fly a plane today, right now, why aren’t we giving them some sort of reaction test that measures their current level of impairment?

    Who would be against that? No one. It would not need to intrude in any way on someone’s privacy. And, to me, it sounds like a very, very, very good idea.

    And drug testing doesn’t test for alcohol! So, you could show up tipsy to fly the plane, but you’ll lose your job if you smoked at sometime in the past. And drug testing doesn’t test for tiredness. Or anything else that might impair your ability to fly a large metal object through the sky. Dumb.

    Drug testing is not about testing for competence. It’s about controlling people’s private behavior. The testing of people who receive government benefits just confirms this.

    Controlling people.




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  32. Moosebreath says:

    Norm,

    I am well aware of Grover Norquist, but taxes of 8% of GDP just isn’t the same as zero. The number of people arguing for taxes to be 8% of GDP is roughly the same as those arguing for taxes to be 100% of GDP.




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  33. Davebo says:

    Heh. Before I left the Army in 2004, they randomly tested 10% of our unit every month.

    Actually they took samples from 10% but generally they only actually tested around half of them.

    Pretty smart if you think about it.




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  34. walt moffett says:

    image quite soon politicians will learn striking sparks off the mean streak in the electorate results in wild fires.




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  35. Lynn Eggers says:

    @John Peabody: @John Peabody:

    Like the author, I “can accept the notion of testing for positions of persons engaged in potentially dangerous activities.” Seems to me that the military qualifies under that guideline. A white collar worker in an office, not so much.




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  36. Tillman says:

    What a predictable result!

    I just think we need to pat ourselves on the back for calling this one back when it was proposed. It’s like everyone but the goofs legislating it knew what was going to happen, and it did!

    I just love when reality confirms my expectations.




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  37. mantis says:

    As a result, the testing cost the government an extra $45,780, he said.

    A small price to pay for humiliating poor people. That is a top Republican priority.




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  38. gVOR08 says:

    To quote Balloon Juice’s most excellent Blog Lexicon, “Hoocoodanode”.




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  39. Racehorse says:

    What would be a lot better and make more sense would be more business like management and policies at government programs such as this, Medicare, SS, food stamps, etc. Make sure that the money is going where it is supposed to. Make sure that technology is up to date. Make sure that administration isn’t bloated and top heavy. Have yearly audits by independent companies, examine budgets yearly, do cost analysis, and other steps. This could reduce fraud and waste, saving billions a year. Find ways to get politics and influence out.




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  40. KansasMom says:

    @gVOR08: When the kids are sleeping and the blogosphere is boring, the Balloon Juice Lexicon is always a great default read. I’ve been reading Coles since 2003 and there are still things that kill me to this day!




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  41. Jenos Idanian says:

    This program was woefully underfunded, and had it been given much more money from the outset, it would have more than paid for itself in savings. Its failure is not proof that the idea was bad, or that its backers were wrong, but that its opponents sabotaged it and never gave it a chance to work.




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  42. KansasMom says:

    @Jenos Idanian: So if it had had more funding, more welfare recipients would have tested positive for drugs? Sabotage by who? The ACLU? Libertarians? Your average joe who likes the Constitution? As an obsessive lurker I’ve seen you make some wackadoodle claims, but really Jenos, this is pathetic.




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  43. anjin-san says:

    @ KansasMom

    wackadoodle

    I predict a bright future for you 🙂




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  44. Neil Hudelson says:

    This program was woefully underfunded, and had it been given much more money from the outset, it would have more than paid for itself in savings. Its failure is not proof that the idea was bad, or that its backers were wrong, but that its opponents sabotaged it and never gave it a chance to work.

    Ah ha, ah hahahahahahahahahahaha. *wipes tear away* Whew! My side hurts.




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  45. Tillman says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Perhaps you could provide more than just your assertions on this one.

    No, really, I want to see what’s justifying your opinion here.




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  46. KariQ says:

    @Racehorse:

    What would be a lot better and make more sense would be more business like management and policies at government programs such as this, Medicare, SS, food stamps, etc. Make sure that the money is going where it is supposed to. Make sure that technology is up to date. Make sure that administration isn’t bloated and top heavy. Have yearly audits by independent companies, examine budgets yearly, do cost analysis, and other steps. This could reduce fraud and waste, saving billions a year. Find ways to get politics and influence out.

    Politicians have been insisting that eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse would do magical things since at least Reagen, probably earlier. (Reagen is just the first one I remember vividly). It never pans out. It never will. The hunt down fraud and find that, always, it cost more to find it than it did to eliminate it. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t eliminate it when we find it, but maybe, just maybe, we should start to consider the possibility that we actually have in place systems that hunt out and eliminate waste already.

    Social Security, for example, is an extremely efficient program. The administrative costs of the program are 0.39% of the assets. That’s one of the highest levels of efficiency of any program, any where, public or private.




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  47. Jenos Idanian says:

    @KansasMom: So if it had had more funding, more welfare recipients would have tested positive for drugs? Sabotage by who? The ACLU? Libertarians? Your average joe who likes the Constitution? As an obsessive lurker I’ve seen you make some wackadoodle claims, but really Jenos, this is pathetic.

    “Wackadoodle?” You betcha.

    My answer was a paraphrase of the standard excuse why various and sundry liberal programs fail. The stimulus bill, for one — “it wasn’t big enough!” Or the subsidies and bailouts of various “green energy” companies. Or the Community Reinvestment Act. Or most of Johnson’s “Great Society” agenda. Or any time spending for education comes up. (That one’s largely a state/local example, but the principle still holds.) Or any of a host of other issues.

    That’s why I used such generic language — I’ve seen the same sentiment time and time again when someone has dared point out that “good intentions” aren’t enough; some ideas are just bad, and throwing more and more money at a bad idea — even by the purest of heart — ain’t gonna fix things.

    I probably should have known the sarcasm would sail right over too many people’s heads…




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  48. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Somehow, I don’t think you’re laughing with me, Neil… but I’m going to pretend you did get my intent and thank you.




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  49. G.A. says:

    Zero. Unlike whatever you heard on Rush, the political left generally is not in favor of spending money for the sake of spending money, but only if it cures some problem that the free market is not doing.

    lol………………………………………………………………………………………………




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  50. Rob in CT says:

    Heh, I knew what Jenos was doing the moment I read it. I’m sure he thinks it was terribly clever.

    The question to ask when someone makes that sort of argument, of course, is “do you have evidence of this?”

    So, for instance, with respect to a given program: what was the funding level set at, what were the results, was the funding then cut and, if so, what were the results post-cut?

    I don’t know enough about the history of the GS programs from inception to answer those questions.

    I do, however, know that it’s fairly easy to explain what happened with the recent Stimulus package. The rate of economic contraction was at first underestimated. When better estimates came in, it was decided that a stimulus large enough to plug the gap was politically unpalatable, even to the Democrats. Obama, agreeing with Summer, decided to stick with the smaller package (and make it 1/3 tax cuts, no less) rather than try for more. The package that passed had a stimulative effect, but was dwarfed by the magnitude of the collapse. If you’re under the impression that budget cuts were the right approach, I suggest you have a gander at various European countries. Our stimulus wasn’t perfect, but we’re looking like the tallest midget here.




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  51. Barry says:

    “While I can accept the notion of testing for positions of persons engaged in potentially dangerous activities (e.g., pilots) but I don’t see the rationale for random testing of the entire state workforce. This strikes me as both an undo invasion of privacy as well as likely costing more than it is worth.”

    Degradation and profit were the only motivations.




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  52. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Rob in CT: Heh, I knew what Jenos was doing the moment I read it. I’m sure he thinks it was terribly clever.

    Regardless of how I feel about myself, you certainly showed yourself more clever than Kansas Mom and anjin for recognizing it. Thank you.




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  53. J-Dub says:

    4/20




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  54. gVOR08 says:

    @Jenos Idanian: You’re offering parody of what you feel is a common liberal excuse. I see it more often from conservatives, as in ‘OK, the economy failed to grow jobs after the Bush tax cuts, but it would have worked if we’d cut deeper.’ Or ‘OK, Iraq was a failure, but it would have worked if we’d sent more troops.’

    FYI, the stimulus worked, and it really would have worked better if it had been larger, and less focused on tax cuts.




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  55. Racehorse says:

    @KariQ: good reply; maybe the management principles and procedures of the SSA should be studied and applied to more programs. If a program or agency is being managed efficiently and effectively, we need to hear more about that. Instead, all we hear about are the horror stories, which may make up a minute fraction. Even private business is not without some waste fraud.




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