In 2003, my company was in some serious financial problems. Post 9/11 commercial insurance premiums had just risen substantially, so much so that my premiums went up more than my total annual profits. At the same time I found out that a number of operations I had just acquired were profitable only because they were not in compliance with labor law, and my crash program to bring them into compliance was going to put me deeply in the red for that year.
I did a whole bunch of things to right the ship, but the two most important were 1) I eliminated a whole layer of management, slashing 5 vice-presidents and having all the front line managers report directly to me; and 2) I eliminated the smallest and worst performing business units.
Now, contrast this to what governments do in the same situation. Their first response, of course, is to do something I could not do - compel more revenue for themselves by increasing taxes. Those of us who make our living by the free decision making of others don't have this dictatorial option.
The second thing that governments do is cut their MOST important, MOST valuable operations. In Seattle, it was always fire and ambulance services that would be cut. Because the whole game was to find the cuts that would most upset the public to try to avoid the necessity of having to make cuts at all. Its an incredibly disingenuous process. Any staffer of a private company that made cost savings prioritization decisions like government officials would be fired in about 2 minutes.
The third thing that governments do if forced to actually, really cut costs (meaning that every other stalling tactic, taxation method, and accounting trick has been exhausted) is to cut field staff who actually do the work rather than high-paid, bloated administrative staffs. This means teachers get cut but not vice-principals. And it means that preventative maintenance gets cut and not transit staffers:
Having removed a mere 25 employees so far, and having just suffered its deadliest year ever, Metro officials now want to raid $10 million from the agency's preventive maintenance fund in order to cover operating expenses, including salaries and benefits. Metro managers would rather skimp on passenger safety and reliability than clear out the system's deadwood and force serious concessions by the transit union.
Moreover, even as it asks riders to sacrifice, Metro is fattening itself up, hiring two new "senior planners," one to a newly created position. According to Metro's official job description, they will be "responsible for participation in the development of an annual business plan ... identifying opportunities for future growth and development" and "defining future strategies."