Budgeting By the Numbers

Budgeting By the Numbers

I figured out that the U.S. Navy probably spent roughly half a million dollars in the last decade on coffee filters for aircraft carrier crews.

Half a million dollars!?! On coffee filters!?!

Sounds ridiculous. Some coffee filter manufacturer or wholesaler must be getting rich on the taxpayer’s dime, right?

Well . . . First, in the interest of full disclosure, I have no idea how much the U.S. Navy actually spent on coffee filters for the carrier crews. This is a speculative exercise. Here’s what I did:

1. I found out how many service personnel are on a carrier (something more than 5,000, apparently, but I went with 5,000).

2. I imagined that every crew member would have, on average, two cups of coffee a day. a.2 cups x 5,000 crew members = 10,000 cups per day

3. I went shopping online and found I could buy a case of 1,000 filters for a 12-cup commercial pot (the kind the restaurants use) for something over $10. Since I had understated the number of crew members, I simply went with the $10 figure for a pot of 10 cups (just simplifying my math here).

a. 10,000 cups per day/10 cups per pot = 1,000 filters per day

b. 1,000 filters per day * $10 (per thousand filters) = $10 per day

4. I multiplied the daily cost of the filters by the number of days in the year.

a. $10 a day x 365 days per year = $3,650 per year

5. I multiplied the cost of filters per year per carrier by the number of active carriers (11).

a. $3,650 per carrier per year x 11 carriers = $40,150

6. Finally, I multiplied the annual cost by ten for a decade, leaving me with $401,500 for a decade’s worth of coffee filters for our aircraft carriers.

What’s the point of this silly exercise?

We can’t sensibly budget by simply looking at numbers and their sticker shock or sticker joy value. Even the concept of sticker shock builds on the notion that we know what we’re getting . . . we just didn’t expect it to cost so much.

But often, when chief executives or legislative leaders announce the highlights of their budgets, they focus on numbers in the abstract, shocking numbers or delightful numbers without context, without any sense of what we are getting (or losing) for our money.

I got to thinking about this after reading about Governor Rick Scott’s “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Agenda” budget. (Budgets, apparently, now have brand names).

On the one hand, there always is something to be said for reducing taxes, letting people retain more of what they earned. If taxes weren’t necessary as a means to pay for necessary and desired services, we’d certainly want folks to keep their money . . . and I’d want to keep mine, too.

On the other hand, impressive-sounding cuts in taxes (Governor Scott is talking about a half billion dollars in tax cuts) come at a cost.

In a few short months this year, nearly two dozen children died of abuse and neglect in Florida . . . children the Department of Children and Families knew about, children they were supervising. Children who died anyway.

Anyone who knows Florida’s sordid history of failure to care for these most vulnerable ones knows that we have had any number of blue-ribbon panels, inspector general reviews, and announcements (with great fanfare) of new and better days ahead for children at risk.

But they keep dying.

So, governor, keep my share of the tax cuts. Spend it on really improving DCF’s capacity of provide oversight and protection.

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2 Responses to Budgeting By the Numbers

  • Kate's Daughter

    Thank you for a logical explanation of the need for taxes. I will join you in telling Scott to keep my share of the tax cuts and use it to improve both Child and Adult Protective Services.

    • Dr. Scott Paine

      So that’s two of us . . . It’s start!

      Thanks for reading and sharing.