Sunday, August 02, 2009

2 AUG 09: Speed Pass

August is here, and the "lazy days of summer" truly have arrived. In fact, all Georgia state employees apparently will get to participate this year. The official name for it is "furlough."

Georgia's government is so strapped for cash that all sorts of state agencies are ordering staff members to take furloughs. As of Saturday, the order included the Georgia State Patrol - which may explain why my drive on Interstate 185 seemed more carefree than usual.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Georgia state troopers may have to take two furlough days a month, from now through December. But please remember: state driving laws still apply. If you see a patrol car parked along the side of the highway due to a furlough, you should slow down or move to a different lane.

I didn't realize until Saturday that nearly half of Georgia's State Patrol posts virtually shut down overnight, due to a tight budget. That means NO troopers are out watching plenty of highways -- but there's probably a bright side to this. County sheriff's departments have a chance to set new records for speeding fines.

Yet the Georgia State Patrol somehow had enough money to break ground this past week for a new post in Americus. Well, actually Americus did - as city sales tax money apparently will pay for the building. If the Columbus mayor had thought of this, our city finally might have a patrol post instead of Manchester and LaGrange.

Georgia's budget crunch is affecting other state departments as well. Recent news reports have listed some of them:

+ Agriculture Department - three days of furloughs this fall. Let's all be thankful food plants have to report their own violations now.

+ Health Department -- three days of furloughs this fall. At least the staff can choose in advance which days they'll call in sick.

+ Department of Natural Resources -- six days of furloughs through December. Hopefully state parks will keep looking nice on those days off.

Clearly this is a difficult time for state workers, who face unplanned days off and less pay. But Georgia is missing a great opportunity here. Why not do what parts of Columbus city government do? Make this a teachable moment - and fill in for furloughed workers with state prison inmates.

The idea of using inmates in Georgia state labor isn't really my idea. Roy Barnes brought it up during his 1998 campaign for Governor - suggesting in one TV commercial he'd use inmates to build new prisons. Barnes admittedly forgot that suggestion once he took office. Perhaps he was afraid inmates would throw cinder blocks at each other.

The other day, I saw Columbus inmates in my neighborhood doing something I'd never seen them do before. They operated a device to level wet concrete around a sewer, so it could be paved over. It looked like good training for a civilian job on a construction crew - or if all else fails, teaching horseback riding.

So why not use Georgia prison inmates at state agencies for a couple of days this fall? The Agriculture Department could have them inspect the pecan crop - and a few budget-conscious growers might ask them to clear the trees as well.

Some state prison inmates should fit in well at local Health Department offices. Who better to administer swine flu vaccines than someone who's experienced with hypodermic needles?

But wait a minute, you may be saying - you can't possibly have Georgia prison inmates fill in for state troopers. Well, why not? Some of them already know the strategy and secrets of high-speed chases. As long as the patrol cars have GPS devices, to verify the inmates don't pursue speeders all the way to Nashville....

(There's another advantage to having prison inmates substitute for state troopers. Many of them could spot a counterfeit license plate from 200 yards away.)

If you have a better cost-cutting idea for Georgia, please let us know. Meanwhile, let's move on to other weekend headlines:

+ Fort Benning began its annual combatives tournament. The weekend TV news showed several matches in progress at the same time -- so this could go beyond mixed martial arts, to mixed mat-ial hurts.

+ The Northern All-Stars lost the Georgia Little League finals to Warner Robins American. Warner Robins takes the state title for the third year in a row - so is it time for Northern to do some recruiting in Stewart and Schley Counties?

+ The Alabama State University trustees voted to increase tuition 22 percent. Wow - it looks like we've found the Montgomery neighborhood with the highest gas prices....

+ Instant Message to NewImage MedSpa on Whitesville Road: Let me get this straight. Based on your ad in the mail, mothers should send their children back to school - then have a "pamper party." What about the mothers of preschoolers? Do you also offer Pampers parties?

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