Watch out for that copper in the golf cart!: Cities next victim of credit crunch

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A couple big stories out today in BusinessWeek and the Los Angeles Times talk about how state and local governments are getting pinched by both high gas prices and falling home values, which cut property tax revenues. They're just as broke as the rest of us. Governments are coming up money-saving schemes that range from creative to despicable. With expenses up and revenues down, governments are hoping to boost other revenues, like traffic tickets and lottery sales. So unless you plan to make up the budget shortfall, watch out.

Twenty-four states are in the red this year, the Times says, quoting stats from the National Conference of State Legislatures. They're cutting the favorite targets of school budgets and public health benefit. Local governments are cutting back on services like buses or parking the bookmobile. Some places are cutting back on all the unnecessary grass-mowing. BusinessWeek says Stillwater, Oklahoma cut its mowing in half, letting parkland turn into prairie. Somewhere Lady Bird Johnson must be smiling.

As much as no one wants to cut back on public safety, for some districts it's inevitable. Cops around the country have to watch their gas spending. Some are switching to alternate vehicles, like golf carts, or just doing foot patrols. Cops in El Paso County, Colo., saw their gas bill climb from $160,000 in 2003 to a projected $700,000 next year, the Times reported, so they stopped car patrols, a move they say will mean they won't be able to catch as many drunk drivers. BusinessWeek says Arizona is going to boost traffic tickets from cameras -- how many speeding tickets can a cop in a golf cart issue -- and stepped up lottery sales. Earlier this year California hatched a new lottery plan and Colorado decided to increase ticket fees. Expect to see these schemes around the country.
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