Who needs some money? Besides all of us individually. I’m thinking more collectively. As in our state treasuries. Right here in Georgia the good ol’ COVID-19 or Wuhan Wallop, or whatever you want to call it, has apparently depleted a good bit of the loose change we the taxpayers keep tucked in Capitol dome sofas. Reports are that a few bucks north of $110 million have already been spent or earmarked for pandemic expenses. Things such as masks, ventilators, face shields, hand sanitizers, temporary hospitals, and sadly, body bags are definitely necessities and not the usual sometimes frivolous expenditures often associated with government.

While those costs will hopefully drop as new infections of the airborne illness ebb, there’s certainly the possibility they will actually continue to accumulate. And that’s a major problem, because while the expenses are going up, at least in Georgia, revenue is heading in the opposite direction with all due speed. When businesses aren’t open and people aren’t working, nobody’s buying much of anything, so no sales taxes are being paid into the state’s coffers. One estimate I saw forecast a $4 billion shortfall over the course of the next year and a half.

Now, surely there’s a bit of fat that can be trimmed from just about every department funded by the taxpayers. As a matter of fact, maybe one of the only good economic things to come out of the pandemic is the opportunity for public entities to see some redundancies and, well, slackers on the payroll, and excise them from future budgets.

Fortunately, Georgia came into 2020 with close to $3 billion in its “rainy day” fund. That money isn’t going to last forever, but it’s a good start. And it puts the Peach State in a much better position than many others who were already having deficit spending issues and couldn’t fund some of their promised pension funds.

In order to help replenish the contents of the cash-starved cookie jar, I think there are a few areas of new fund-raising the state might want to consider. For example:

Drag racing fines: With interstate highway traffic seriously depleted, it’s not unusual to read about (and if you’re close enough to the road itself, actually hear) a driver testing out the limits of his car’s purported top speed. While we’ve all got speedometers in our vehicles that indicate 120 mph and maybe 140 mph possibilities, we’re content with the knowledge that we COULD go that fast if we really wanted to. The people I’m talking about are actually doing it. Usually loudly. And the activity isn’t always confined to the highways. There are plenty of surface streets being used as super speedways. Once the constables on patrol catch these road runners, a fine of $1,000 per mile an hour over the posted speed limit would not only serve to limit the practice, but quickly bolster sagging state finances.

Stupidity charges: These are just way too numerous to even list. Everything from a herd mentality house party to uncovered sneezing in the middle of the produce aisle at the grocery should require the offenders to pay for their actions. I don’t know how you enforce penalties, and I know you can’t fix stupid, but can we at least give these people “I’m not real smart” signs to wear so the rest of us know to avoid them?

New lottery levies: Two-dollar tickets could be sold that allow the buyer to guess the correct date and hour of the day that the first proven COVID-19 vaccine will be released to the public. (Dr. Anthony Fauci can’t play.) Half the sale proceeds go to the state, the other half to the winner. (You could also add a “Braves’ Opening Day” lottery so fans can feel as if baseball is again part of their lives.)

Don’t pay the legislators: I know, I know, they write the laws so the chance of this idea ever happening is miniscule. But right now, our state Senate and House aren’t in session (nor as of this writing is the U.S. House of Representatives), so why are members still drawing paychecks? Not paying them might not totally balance the budget, but it would undoubtedly boost public morale.

And the list goes on. How about financial penalties for gouging the public? Have you checked the price of a pound of hamburger lately? And when’s the last time you saw toilet paper on sale? Fines for overcharging could help fatten state coffers.

Regardless of enterprising ideas for extra cash, however, a couple of line-items in the budget should remain sacrosanct: DO NOT take anything away from teachers, firefighters, or police. Find the fat somewhere else.

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Bill Lewis is a freelance writer in Marietta.

See more of his work at www.wordsmith-at-large.com.

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