So? Congress back in session? So? You’re expecting repented souls to finally get to your work, right? You’re expecting something other than the sandbox antics of children on display before they took a Christmas vacation from their – vacation? Really? You’re new on the planet, right?

With the same huge backlog of vitally important tasks on the table as when they left a month ago – and the same cast of impotent characters – don’t look for anything to be different. In fact, when it comes to our Congress, my advice is to not look for anything promising at all. Instead, look homeward.

I’m a long-time believer – and a devoted follower – of the activities of local and state government. It’s easy to keep up with the currently embarrassing antics of national government because of the national media we are exposed to. TV, radio or Internet put what Congress does – and doesn’t do – right in your face each day. Finding out what your city councilman or legislator is up to is a lot harder. But you should make the effort.

The next 12 months of this Congress will be as failed and frustrating as the previous 36. Reducing the debt – creating jobs – improving the economy – ending one or more wars – none of these things will be effectively tackled. Much less intelligently debated. But all is not hopeless.

When expecting lower levels of government to become more vital and have a larger role dealing with our ills, certain civic and monetary realities must be remembered. While cities, counties and states have income sources – you and me mostly – much of what they are responsible for requires dollars from the feds. Highway and bridge building, new water and sewer systems, heavy support for state and local education, updating airports and other transportation systems, rebuilding our national power grid – all this and more requires very large amounts of matching federal dollars. Local funding is not adequate to get it done.

So, the time-honored position for local officials is to raise funding for what is needed, then watch the federal spigot for the expected flow of federal dollars to add to the pile so all of the above items can be undertaken.

Well, time-honored or not, it’s not happening. Not like it used to. One reason is because federal coffers aren’t as full as they once were. But the larger reason at the moment is – Congress won’t produce! Since local and state budgeting is for two or three years ahead – and given the colossal failure of this Congress to act on anything except abortion, union busting and gay marriage – even if all 535 of those miscreants suddenly came to their senses, things would continue to fall apart at home because of the time lag between allocation and receiving those federal dollars.

So, back to reality. If there ever was a time for all other levels of government to prove their value, I believe it’s now. State legislatures, county commissions, city councils – and all the other elected or appointed officialdom that makes up that structure -must take up as much slack as possible. Further, after belt tightening, all those governing bodies have to see what conditions are and – if necessary – redesign how they operate and how they interact with each other.

No state – not one – can continue operating fiscally as it used to. No city council or county commission can, either. Resources aren’t there and the fundamentally constipated federal animal is even more unreliable than in the recent past.

Some states are creating advisory sub-groups to examine their traditional style of operating; what functions are constitutionally mandated, how required services have been conducted and paid for in the past, what realignment of services and their delivery might be advisable – even necessary – and to do a little “outside-the-box” thinking. Cities and counties, too.

Oregon’s Curry County has been doing that. A couple of dozen citizens with business and management savvy – blessed by county government – have conducted hearings, brain-stormed and developed a list of 19 ideas for the county commission. Some traditional. Some “outside-the-box” stuff. New-but-experienced eyes looking at old ways of doing things and being a little creative. Some of their suggestions would require substantial changes in the way we do things locally. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Every county in this nation should do the same. Every state. Every local community. That’s not to say experienced office holders aren’t doing their jobs. Far from it. But given the current federal brain-freeze, forcing changes in traditional ways of doing things down the food chain, why not take the opportunity to get some new eyes with some valuable backgrounds to look at “what is” and maybe come up with some new ways to get us to “what can be?”

Some re-invention of state, county and community government might help us solve a few of our problems while voters wait for November to do a little house cleaning at the federal level. Do we need all those counties? Do we need all those school districts? Road, sewer, fire and water districts? Is it time for some consolidation of some of those? Should counties and cities be given more latitude in how they raise and spend their dollars? Is a local sales tax viable? They’re looking at these and more in Curry County already.

The impotence of our congressional denizens will not be cured in the November election. Or the election two years hence. Count on it. We may shake ’em up a little but not enough to restore a willingness to cooperate. With each other or with us. So why not take this time to look at things closer to home? Challenge what – and how – we’ve been doing them. Use some 21st century tools to solve our 21st century problems.

All it takes is the will to do it. To change what needs to be changed and make more use of what works. Couldn’t be a better time.

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