Weird Side Effects of State and Local Budget Cuts

While Illinois keeps creditors waiting, New York, Florida, and other states are taking the ax to nonessential spending. Kittens, space aliens, and motorists in need of a toilet are casualties of cuts. Below, some of the more curious side effects of the new age of austerity.

Asian carp may join the swimmers and sunbathers cavorting in Minnesota lakes this summer, thanks to a proposed $16 million cut to the budget for rebuilding the Coon Rapids Dam. Without the dam, officials at the Minnesota Natural Resources Dept. worry that the invasive species will migrate up the Mississippi River basin and into the state’s northern lakes.

Beginning this September, the Fricot “Nugget,” a 13.8-pound piece of crystallized gold found in 1864 and housed in the California State Mining and Mineral Museum will no longer be publicly displayed. The museum is one of 70 parks and historic sites that the Golden State is closing to cope with its budget crisis. Another is the governor’s mansion that was once home to Ronald Reagan.

If E.T. calls but no one picks up the phone, do aliens exist? An array of 42 radio antennae that listen for extraterrestrial life was turned off in April because California’s Hat Creek Radio Observatory lost some federal and state funding. The observatory, which was established during the Cold War to search for extraterrestrial intelligence, is also seeking the origins of the universe.

Budget cuts put the fizzle on Chicago’s Fourth of July celebrations this year as the city pulled the plug on its annual fireworks show. Independence Day pyrotechnics cost the city $110,000 last year, plus more than $750,000 in police expenses. Other U.S. cities cutting pyrotechnics from July 4 festivities: Gainesville, Fla., Marina Del Rey, Calif., and New Britain, Conn.

In September the state’s Transportation Dept. closed seven rest stops on Southern California freeways because it could no longer afford to monitor the quality of the drinking water in public bathrooms. Thankfully for motorists heeding the call of nature, the closures lasted only one month, as authorities were able to find money to resume water tests. Drivers in other states may not be so lucky: Budget pressures have led 14 states to shutter highway rest stops since 2009.

Feral cats in Florida’s Hillsborough County, which encompasses Tampa, have little to fear now. Budget cuts have left the local animal services department 27 percent smaller than in 2007. Some residents are helping to pick up the slack, trapping the errant kittens and taking them to vets to be neutered. Tip: Kentucky Fried Chicken makes for excellent bait.

New York
Bedbugs in the Big Apple may sleep easier following a 50 percent cut in funding for the Integrated Pest Management program, a division of the state-funded Cornell Cooperative Extension research center.

There’s a lot of talk about shared sacrifice in state capitals this year. In Topeka, at least, lawmakers are living up to the rhetoric. Earlier this year they voted to eliminate the $100,000-a-year budget for the bottles of water used in the statehouse’s coolers. Politicians will be footing the bill for their own hydration needs until further notice.

New York
The line at small claims court just got longer. When New York State cut $170 million from its court system’s budget this year, small claims courts, which settle civil cases under $5,000, were among the hardest hit. In Brooklyn, a court that had met four nights a week now convenes once weekly. New Yorkers aren’t the only ones to lose their venue for settling minor disputes: Manchester, N.H., and Covelo, Calif., are among cities that have curtailed or closed small claims courts.

Budget shortfalls have led to overcrowding at most of California’s state prisons. Not in Los Angeles County. The North Facility of the Pitchess Detention Center can house up to 1,500 inmates, but lately the head count has been running at below two dozen. To slash costs while avoiding the expense of closing the $41 million facility, the Sheriff’s Dept. has been paroling misdemeanor offenders once they’ve served 20 percent of their sentence.

New Jersey
Newark Mayor Cory Booker put all “non-core” functions on the table last July in an attempt to wipe out an $83 million budget gap. That included city contracts for toilet paper. A pair of New Jersey-based makers of bathroom tissue offered to donate thousands of rolls. Ultimately, Newark’s draconian cuts stopped short of city water closets.

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