Let's invent a waitress, let's call her "Monroe." Monroe works for a restaurant called "Indiana," managed by a guy named "Indianapolis."
Monroe doesn't have a lot of money, so she spends much of her time planning and working to make sure that what she does have goes as far as it can. After all, she's been burned in the past, she's worked at low-cost restaurants, she's worked during economic downturns.
And she knows the tips aren't always there.
Monroe has responsibilities. She has children, she has a mortgage payment, and she's committed to give her church a certain amount every month.
Speaking of her church: Monroe's strict and deeply-held religious beliefs preclude her from borrowing any money, except for money for her house.
Monroe's religion also requires that, in August of every year, she make a budget for herself for the next year. She has to make the budget for a whole year at a time, and she has to prepare that budget a full six months before the year for which she's planning.
There's one other thing I almost forgot. The pastor at Monroe's church has admonished that none of his flock shall ever increase their budgets, once set. He's very harsh about this. Monroe is terrified of making a budget that would overspend her money.
It's August of 2006, and Monroe has sat down to work on her budget for the coming year of 2007. Back at the restaurant, Boss Indianapolis has told Monroe some bad news: because of management screw ups at the Indiana restaurant corporation, he's gonna have to cut her hourly pay back from $2.40 an hour to $2.20 an hour.
Ain't her fault, but she's gonna have to take it. "You'll probably make it up on tips, kid," he reassures.
But our intrepid waitress reads the news. She'd counted on some pretty good tips in the past, but people turned out a lot more stingy than she anticipated. Sometimes she's had to go to her meager savings to make up for the tips that she never got.
And now her favorite newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, says 2007 is gonna look like 1929, only worse.
Monroe sits down to do her budget, and when the children come over and ask her if this year they can get a new Xbox, like they did last year, she has to tell them no. And they go away, crying and calling her a bad mommy. Monroe hates that she has to do it, but what are the alternatives?
I'm just havin' fun
If you haven't guessed, and I know you have, I just told you a little allegory. Our waitress Monroe is an amalgam of Monroe County government, particularly the County Council and Auditor's office. Her children are the various county departments, boss Indianapolis is the Indiana State Government and the restaurant is, well, it's Indiana.
Her hourly pay is the base amount that Indianapolis gives her, but most of her income comes from tips — fees, income taxes and property taxes, values that change due to forces far beyond Monroe's control.
Monroe never knows exactly how much money she has to spend in any year, until that year is over.
Her religion is Hoosier taxophobia, as codified in the Indiana Code, especially that part of the law that tells local governments how they have to operate.
If you followed my allegory, congratulate yourself. You now know more about local government financing than 99 percent of your fellow citizens and 99.9 percent of your elected officials.
Fables of the deconstruction
But you may not know something else. You may not know that fiscal control of our county government is, for the first time in two decades, in the control of Democrats.
And you may not know that this fact has been driving the local paper, The Herald-Times, absolutely crazy. For months they have assailed elected Democrats with "reports" of incompetence, questions of legitimacy, etc. It's nothing new, really. Just the right-wing perspective of the paper's management.
But last Saturday something unprecedented happened. The paper reported a "tussle" between the Democrat Auditor and a Democrat Councilman, Michael Woods — subtly implying a division in local Democratic ranks. Why, even a smart young Democrat like Mike Woods had finally "had enough" with his fellow party-mates.
One little problem. It never happened.
Two little problems. Councilman Woods wasn't even at the meeting, at the time he was alleged to be beating up our poor auditor.
Three little problems. The reporter who wrote the article wasn't even at the meeting to know if Woods was there.
Four little problems. Statements attributed to other Democrats in the article were never actually made by those Democrats.
The paper has "responded" by reassigning the reporter from the news desk to the copy desk. But, other than a lame "correction," it hasn't done anything else.
It hasn't offered a retraction. It hasn't offered an apology. It hasn't even offered to explain how the hell this happened in the first place and why every single subscriber in the county shouldn't look hard at the situation and wonder how much of the paper's reporting is true, and how much of it just invented for presumably political ends.
Supposedly the editor will write an editorial on the issue in Monday's (Aug. 14) edition. I'm really looking forward to reading it.
Gregory Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.