21 July 2005

Four Rate Hikes

Welcome to the Island of Helium-Based Pricing: power, gasoline, water and tollbooth fees are rising as if the Law of Gravity didn't apply to them.

It doesn't. We can only hope it did.

Power rates will rise 15-60% in the coming months as the "fuel adjustment rate" is applied monthly, a formula so complex the man in charge of "calculating" it couldn't explain to Me how he did it or what the formula actually measures. Must be discouraging to have to do a job you can't explain.

Our power grid is running at near-total capacity, thus has little reserve, relies too much on exposed lines and no real effort is being made to find or develop additional or alternate energy sources. But! Salaries for Power Authority employees keep rising to retain their title of "Best-Paid": the average janitor makes more than an experienced teacher. Don't you just love to subsidize broom-pushing during brownouts and blackouts?

In related fashion, gasoline prices are going up. Everywhere. We tend to forget that in Our "We, the belly-button of the Universe" mentality. Nothing We can do except blame President Bush for barefaced lying to get Our soldiers killed in Iraq, or maybe the Chinese for daring to step into the 21st century or even astrology for some odd convergence of inert matter.

But the crowning misery in the gasoline saga is the panicky rush to gas stations launched by a possible truck driver's strike and the idea--the threat--that gasoline truck drivers would join the strike and deny Us Our daily fuel.

What. A. Crock. Panic-buying in the face of an idle threat is tantamount to saying: Do it to me again! This has been a test and We have been found wanting, just as We have before with three major blockages and several minor ones creating horrible snarls of traffic. The Jenius is not against the right to strike: The Jenius IS against the display of abuse and limp-wristed "authority" shown thus far. Now We have another test and the response is yet again a cowardly tucking of tail between nervous legs.

Truck drivers want to strike? Fine. Gasoline truck drivers want to join them? Fine. Work around it (Wake up, Fools: it's called "thinking) and make the drivers pay for breaking laws. When truck drivers strike and block traffic for hours, the only response is: arrest them and confiscate the vehicles. Blocking traffic for anything other than an emergency is a misdemeanor. Enforce the damn law or strike it from the books. With another tepid response to a threat, all We have now is very happy gasoline retailers, distributors and truck drivers with an inflated sense of power. This is a good thing?

Moving on. Water rates will rise at least 128% for the average user. For The Jenius and His family, this means a bill that rises from under $30.00 to one under $65.00. Not exactly painful to Us, but to the average family, the rate hike will force often-desperate choices.

The problem is not that the rate hike is being implemented (stay with Me here), it's that the rate hike should have happened long ago. Hear Me out: The Water and Sewer Authority, in whatever guise it wishes to mask itself, is a business. It needs to provide a service, charge for it and charge enough to maintain and improve its operation without outside funding. To summarize: it hasn't done that. For political reasons, it has been saddled with too many employees, vegetable-brain planning and a rate structure too feeble to sustain true growth. So, what seemed "cheap" was actually "stupidly cheap."

Estimates of water loss through leaks, ruptures and faulty processing range from 20% to 50%. Even at the low range, recovering that 20% would greatly alleviate the water problem. But it takes money to fix the system and the current revenue rate won't allow for it.

Privatizing was a great idea...if The Fools had truly privatized. Their stipulation was "Take over and fire no one." The WSA had an estimated employee excess of 30-40%, many of them unionized workers jammed to the gills with benefits. No private company can operate with an overhead of one-third too many employees and the end result was as expected: abject failure and a return to the government teat.

The "water problem" has been dragging for over 40 years, through (de)generation after (de)generation of Fools. Now We have to pay it, with the added insult that (a) Another rate hike will be needed (not a bold prediction; these are Fools, you know); (b) Service will get worse (perception is reality and We will perceive it to be worse) and (c) The system will not be fixed.

And finally, We have the tollbooths. For nearly a decade, The Jenius made attempt after attempt to find out how much money was collected from tollbooths and what it was used for. Despite numerous attempts, no specific answer to either question was ever given. At first it was a matter of curiousity, then a matter of concern, then pride and finally a matter left for dead. "No one knows." And two years after The Jenius threw in the towel, the local press waded in...and came up empty after several months' effort. For a matter of public money to be this carefully hidden and protected (We are talking a lot of money here: this not an accident), something spurious must be going on.

Note how the 43% rate hike in all tollbooths around the Island is to be implemented despite the fact that public hearings have yet to be held and will not matter a roach's armpit anyway. The rate hike will go into effect in September. The public hearings will be in August. Aren't you excited?

End result: Higher bills, higher expenses, declining services, declining quality of life, The Fools running rampant like butt-naked monkeys and Our Future looking less like "progress" and more like "regress."

No, don't shrug. That's how We got here in the first place.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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