What Charlie Sheen and the state’s finances have in common

I have never been more honored. That is to say, I’ve never been more honored to be a simile.

Yesterday, Minnesota Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) was quoted in the Star Tribune in response to a question having to do with the state’s revenue stream. Rep. Garofalo said: “If you want a revenue stream to look like a person, you want it to look like Don Shelby — stable, reliable. And, unfortunately, our current revenue stream more closely resembles Charlie Sheen.”

You remember Charlie Sheen. If you are having trouble, turn on any television; anywhere at anytime and within 10 minutes he will be giving an interview about his decision to turn over a new leaf. You will soon discover that Charlie needs to turn over the whole tree. He is accused of being an alcoholic, a drug addict, a wife-beater and a philanderer. No more, he says. I will go cold turkey on all fronts. I will be a changed man, he says, and I will do it with no outside help of those silly treatment centers, or “cults” as he calls them.

As bad as our revenue stream picture might seem, I personally didn’t think it was Charlie Sheen-like. Then I took a good look at it. The thing looks like Charlie Sheen on…on something even stronger than the stuff he’s usually on. Charlie Sheen is all over the place, reckless, and if you’ve caught one of his interviews, in total denial.

Which, as they say, is not a river in Egypt.

According to Rep. Garofalo, the revenue stream should look more like me, “stable and reliable.”  I am flattered by the compliment and very happy that the legislator didn’t know me 30 years ago. Therein hangs another tale.

Despite the kind reference, I’m apt to agree with Rep. Garofalo on half of what he said. You’d be crazy to depend on Charlie Sheen for anything, except craziness. Minnesotans are ill advised to count on the current state revenue picture pasted together with chewing gum and bailing twine. It is often said that a committee attempting to come up with a horse, will, in fact, report out a camel. Minnesota politics, and the economy, has resulted in a state financial spreadsheet that looks like a dromedary.

Our overspending
A reliable revenue stream would have to be, first, reliable. Households build budgets on just such reliance. A certain amount comes in from the paycheck and a certain amount goes out, and some of it is stuck into savings for a rainy day. We have been overspending our paycheck. Charlie has done that, too. We have borrowed from our rich Uncle Sam, and promised we would pay him back as soon as the kids grow up and get jobs and paychecks of their own. We have been kicking the can down the road all the way into our children’s yards.

What Charlie Sheen and the state revenue stream have in common is both desperately need an intervention. Interventions require loved ones to look the problem in the face and tell the truth. “You are out of control,” they often say. Charlie would tell them to keep quiet. He would tell them they don’t know anything.

Legislators can’t do that. The tough love they’d be hearing would come from voters. “You are out of control, and you are afraid to face what you must do,” the voters would say. The voters would say that if they cared enough. If they really understood the problem, the voters would say the toughest words: “And, if you don’t make things right, we will turn our backs on you.”

The problem in this scenario is that Charlie is surrounded by friends who are as crazy as he is. When he is around them, his bizarre behavior looks normal. And, there are those who depend on Charlie for their own financial welfare. They don’t want him to change. If he changes, they’d have to find their own money. I’ve seen a lot of these interventions. Charlie and the Legislature are listening to their friends, and that only puts off the inevitable judgment day. “I’ll quit tomorrow.”

I am so touched by Rep. Garofalo’s comment about me. I have wanted, for a very long time, to be thought of as stable and reliable. But it wasn’t always that way. I had to do some very hard things, turn my back on people who were trying to keep me crazy, and start a new life.

Rep. Garofalo, this isn’t going to be easy, and it isn’t going to be any fun. But the revenue stream for Minnesota should not look like me. It should look like all of you in the Legislature when you are finally willing to honestly face the problem and do the hard work of solving it, but it all starts with admitting there is a problem in the first place.

Haven’t we all had quite enough of Charlie Sheen? Right now he is only mildly amusing. If he doesn’t change, he will be simply pathetic.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/03/2011 - 09:49 am.

    Read this article from Time (1/25/2001) and weep, or laugh, or both.

    http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,96747,00.html

    Bush had just taken office. Tax cuts were being proposed by Bush, approved by the Republican Congress, and recommended by Greenspan.

    The need for the tax cuts?

    WE WERE IN DANGER OF PAYING OFF ALL OF THE FEDERAL DEBT BY 2011 !!!

    Yes, paying off all of the federal debt.

    That would be a bad thing.

    Laugh, weep, or both.

    And now in 2011 we are in a place where we may realistically be brought down by the overwhelming debt.

    Both on a federal and state level.

    Fiscally responsible, indeed. Now tell me again, who was on coke?

  2. Submitted by Howard Salute on 03/03/2011 - 10:40 am.

    “Haven’t we all had quite enough of Charlie Sheen? Right now he is only mildly amusing. If he doesn’t change, he will be simply pathetic.”

    I believe the analogy to be, Charlie is very sick today. If he chooses not to get help, he will still be very sick. It feels dangerous to label those with mental illness and addiction as pathetic. They are sick.

    ps Congrats to Don on winning the Freedopm of Information Award.

  3. Submitted by Nila Ouska on 03/03/2011 - 12:18 pm.

    Don,

    I’ve long been an admirer of yours but this article is just a rant with no specifics in it. What exactly is it you think needs to happen (other than “being more stable and reliable)?

    Also, it’s probably easier said than done.

  4. Submitted by Jim Roth on 03/03/2011 - 04:28 pm.

    I agree with Nila, other than the names Don Shelby and Charlie Sheen what is newsworthy about this article???

  5. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 03/04/2011 - 05:57 am.

    It appears that Governor Dayton is approaching the budget seriously and realistically. The Majority Leaders in the Legislature, however, are attacking his proposals like kids at a birthday party with toothpicks and a balloon, and then not offering any viable alternatives. Then they concentrate on things like creating a new requirement for voters to show government issued ID cards, when Secretary of State Ritchie says the cost could be $20 Million for the next election. Another legislator wants tax concessions so Taylors Fallls can attract businesses from Wisconsin. How reliable and stable is that, if businesses will jump the river and relocate every time they can get a better deal?

  6. Submitted by Eric Glenne on 03/04/2011 - 08:17 am.

    “Haven’t we all had quite enough of Charlie Sheen?”

    Yes we have… which begs the question why you evoke his name *yet again* for, (as Jim and others point out,) an article of dubious journalistic merit.

    “Right now he is only mildly amusing. If he doesn’t change, he will be simply pathetic.”

    For those who have struggled with family members with mental illness, he is far from “amusing.” Here we are in the supposedly enlightened 21st Century and we’re still pointing and laughing at the mentally ill.

    How about we leave Charlie to fight his demons himself and stop using his name simply to draw an audience for our articles, radio shows, TV programs and blogs?

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/04/2011 - 09:28 am.

    Gracefully written, but at bottom this essay is telling the state of Minnesota to fix everything with cuts. Mr. Shelby even speaks of those who need to rely on public programs, but says they are “relying on Charlie” and should have “to find their own money.”

    Any suggestions as to where, Mr. Shelby, since non-profits also find their income severely reduced? Even those who are owed money by the state. Even those who serve the disabled and elderly who cannot care for themselves. Even those who distribute food and try to find shelter for the growing numbers of unemployed and homeless people.

    Yes, the legislature must recognize the real problem (LACK OF REVENUE due to large tax cuts for the wealthy for the last 8-10 years) and address it (increase taxes on those who have not been asked to pay their fair share, just as Governor Dayton has proposed).

  8. Submitted by Don Shelby on 03/04/2011 - 10:30 am.

    To Posters, in no particular order. First, some of you have correctly pointed out that I didn’t show proper understanding of his disease by referring, in the last graph, to his display being “mildly amusing.” I lived through the kind of craziness he is displaying, and you are right, there is nothing amusing about it. My mistake.
    To those who take me to task for not putting any “news” in the piece – that was intentional. I am not an expert on economics and have no desire to influence public policy in a specific direction, certainly not anything I could come up with. The piece was really about the comparison between me and Charlie Sheen used by Representative Garofalo. It was meant to be a read, not a manual.
    To the person who suggests that my point was to urge cuts over taxes, I would respond by saying that it was not my intention to suggest such. Legislators are as beholden to interests who want no taxes as some are to those who want more. My words were meant to be taken in the frame that many of our legislators in positions of responsibility are chronically arthritic in their thinking. There is denial on both sides as they both cling to ideologies and not to problem solving.
    Thanks for your comments. I learn from them.
    Don

  9. Submitted by Don Shelby on 03/04/2011 - 10:32 am.

    To Posters, in no particular order. First, some of you have correctly pointed out that I didn’t show proper understanding of his disease by refer, in the last graph, to his display being “mildly amusing.” I lived through the kind of craziness he is displaying, and you are right, there is nothing amusing about it. My mistake.
    To those who take me to task for not putting any “news” in the piece – that was intentional. I am not an expert on economics and have no desire to influence public policy in a specific direction, certainly not anything I could come up with. The piece was really about the comparison between me and Charlie Sheen used by Representative Garofalo. It was meant to be a read, not a manual.
    To the person who suggests that my point was to urge cuts over taxes, I would respond by saying that it was not my intention to suggest such. Legislators are as beholden to interests who want no taxes as some are to those who want more. My words were meant to be taken in the frame that many of our legislators in positions of responsibility are chronicallly arthritic in their thinking. There is denial on both sides as they both cling to ideologies and not to problem solving.
    Thanks for your comments. I learn from them.
    Don

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