Public Policy Forum Blog

Decision-Making in Government

Smart policy decisions are made without partisan blinders and with a thorough examination of the facts. At the Public Policy Forum, we strive to help inform impartial fact-based debates on policy issues that weigh both the costs and benefits of questions before governing bodies. Public policy decisions have long-lasting tangible and intangible consequences, and too often short-term concerns taint the overall picture.

I recently finished an assignment in a graduate-level course in which I analyzed an article on a cost benefit analysis conducted on the Chicago Parent-Child Center (CPC) program. The CPC – similar to Head Start – provides comprehensive educational and family support services to children from low income families from preschool through third grade.

The article’s author sought to examine whether the benefits of providing these services outweighed the costs and whether benefits of extended program participation were greater than less extensive participation. The study analyzed a host of programmatic expenses as well as tangible benefits (e.g. reduced incarcerations, increased wage earnings) and ultimately found that the benefits associated with the program far outweigh the costs.  It further found that benefits increased with extended program participation.

Putting the issue of the costs and benefits of early childhood education aside, this study is a perfect example of how programs should be evaluated and public policy decisions made. Decisions to cut or enhance funding on early education, build a new library, put more police officers on the street, or create a new park should be made based on weighing the net benefits received. As South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard recently stated when speaking about raising gas taxes to pay for infrastructure repairs, “there is a difference between being cheap and being frugal. A cheap person refuses to spend money even when it would be wise to do so.  A frugal person is careful with money, but understands that sometimes spending in the short run is smart and saves money in the long run.”   

Having this mindset is of vital importance for Wisconsin municipalities, but this arguably is easier said than done given the realities of growing operational costs, capped property tax levies and stagnant state aids. In any case, let’s hope that as government officials continue to navigate their way through the gauntlet of limited local government resources, they do so with the long-term costs and benefits of their decisions in mind. 

Mike Gavin