22 August 2016

A Baker's Half A Dozen Problems That Can Be Solved With A Little Money

Some of the perennial problems with government can be solved by increasing spending on programs that, even collectively, make up only a tiny percentage of the total budget of the government that provides them. But, for some reason, they are usually systemically underfunded.

1. Judges and judicial support staff.

There are many causes of delay in the courts and some are intractable and inherent in the way we have set up the system.

But, one easily solved part of the problem, which is particularly acute in the general jurisdiction state courts and the federal courts in Colorado, is the time it takes for judges to rule on pending motions, to issue rulings in bench trials, and to decide appeals.  The lion's share of this particular cause of delay has a simple, prosaic cause.  Each judge has too many cases on his or her docket.  Judges can't control how many cases are filed and have to do their best to do justice in each of them. While the rules of civil procedure, and to a lesser extent, the rules of criminal procedure, are optimized to minimize judicial involvement, when it comes to making substantive decisions, there are unavoidable minimum amounts of time that are necessary to have some semblance of reasoned decision making. 

Yet, the judicial function makes up a tiny share of the total budget, some of which is offset with court filing fees.

The economic benefits of swifter rulings in the courts is greatly underestimated.

2. The civil division of the sheriff and marshal's budgets.

Once someone wins a judgment in a court, some of the remedies: evictions, foreclosures and seizures of tangible personal property (as well as some pre-judgment functions like service of process and service of arrest warrants for people held in contempt of court), are carried out by an obscure little department in most sheriff's offices and by U.S. Marshals in federal court.

Often the delay between the entry of a final enforceable judgment from a court and action to enforce these judgments can be several weeks to several months, due to understaffing of the civil division of the sheriff's department or its federal counterpart.

Swift and certain enforcement of court judgments enhances the authority of the rest of the court system and in turn promotes greater standards of obedience to the law that the courts enforce. But, this function is routinely underfunded and also operates in a manner that most formal legal scholars don't even notice or acknowledge.  Yet, in courts of limited jurisdiction, where most of the judgments are in collection cases and evictions, most of the real action is post-judgment and not in the entry of the judgment itself.

3. The DMV. 

The most common encounter that average citizens have with government is with the department of motor vehicles, either related to vehicle registration or driver's licenses.  Long delays are the norm. Yet, a modest increase in funding for this function would dramatically shorten lines and waits for official action, increasing the impression of government that most people receive.

4. The Passport Office.

The story of the DMV is repeated again with the passport process, where it is possible to do the work in a matter of a few decays, but it often takes many weeks or months to get action.  Again, the amount of money spent to process passport applications is tiny relative to the total budget, but it makes up a disproportionate share of the contact that voters have with government.

5. The Social Security Office.

The Social Security system spends less money on bureaucrats per dollar distributed than any other program.  But, a little more money spend processing issues that effect everyone could turn two or three hour waits at a drab government office into ten or twenty minute affairs, greatly improving the experience of average voters who deal with government.

6. Building Permits.

After a recent hailstorm in Denver, we had our roof replaced.  The work was done reasonably quickly.  The building permit process took about half of year to issue and several more months to finish inspections, in a process that was relatively uneventful.  

Each month long delay in a building permit can cost private sector families and businesses thousands of dollars.  

Again, the building permit process costs only a tiny part of the overall municipal budget, but has a huge impact on the private sector, is a frequently point of contact with government for law abiding voters, and could be dramatically improved with a little more spending.

7. Voter Registration.

The amount of money it would cost to maintain an all year round voter registration drive that would increase a locality's political clout is very small, but the benefits to the democratic process are very great.

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