Today we announce the winners in our big Deficit Contest, in which we asked you, the ordinary taxpaying citizens who make up the backbone and pelvic structure of this great nation, to see if you could come up with helpful suggestions for getting rid of this pesky federal budget deficit. As you know, our congresspersons have been unable to work on this because they've been busy passing an Ethics Bill, under which we're going to pay them more money, in exchange for which they're going to try to have some ethics. I think this is a terrific concept, and if it works with Congress, we should also try it with other ethically impaired groups such as the criminally insane.

Speaking of whom, you readers did a heck of a job responding to the Deficit Contest. As I write these words, my office floor is covered with thousands of contest entries, carefully arranged in mounds and in many cases welded together with dog spit supplied by my two research assistants, Earnest and Zippy, who were a major help. But it was you readers who really came through, proving once again that when the American people decide to "get involved" in a problem, it is best not to let them have any sharp implements. Because quite frankly, reading between the lines, I detected a certain amount of hostility in these entries, especially the ones proposing a nuclear strike on the U.S. Capitol.Some hostility was also directed toward me. In some versions of my original contest column, I had proposed, in a lighthearted manner, that we reduce the deficit by "selling unnecessary states such as Oklahoma to the Japanese." This caused a number of Oklahomans to send in letters containing many correctly spelled words and making the central lighthearted point that I am a jerk. They also sent me official literature stating that Oklahoma has enormous quantities of culture in the form of ballet, Oral Roberts, etc., and that the Official State Reptile - I am not making this up - is something called the "Mountain Boomer." So I apologize to Oklahoma, and as a token of my sincerity I'm willing to sell my state, Florida, to the Japanese, assuming nobody objects to the fact that Japan would suddenly become the most heavily armed nation on Earth.

But most of the hostility in the Deficit Contest entries was directed toward our elected federal officials. This is especially true of:


This is Geoffrey Braden of Seattle, Wash., whose idea is that we convert the federal budget deficit to electrical voltage - the bigger the deficit, the higher the voltage - and then run the current through our congresspersons. Geoffrey recommended that we run the current through a specific section of the congressional anatomy that I will not identify here, except to say that besides eliminating the deficit, this proposal would put a real dent in all these sex scandals. Geoffrey therefore wins the big Cash Prize, consisting of all the pennies in my closet, estimated street value $23 million if put into paper sleeves, which will never happen.

Speaking of pennies, about a thousand of you suggested that we eliminate the deficit by sending all our accumulated hateful penny deposits to the government. This is a brilliant idea except for one minor flaw: it's stupid. What it boils down to is giving the government more money, which of course the government would immediately convert into things like accordion subsidies. Which is too bad, because some of you had excellent ideas for increasing government revenue, such as:

- "A $10 million Roman numeral tax on movies. For example, `Rambo IV' would cost Stallone $40 million. I'm not sure whether reducing the number of movie sequels would be a side benefit or the main benefit." (Ed Goodman, Waterbury, Conn.)

- "Fine people $50,000 for each unnecessary education-related letter attached to the end of their names. For example, `Robert H. Monotone, B.A., M.B.A., Ph.D.' would be fined $400,000 annually." (Ron DiCesare, Troy, Mich.)

- "The U.S. government should sell its secrets directly to the Russians and cut out the middlemen." (Leslie Price, Hibbing, Minn.)

- "Rent the Stealth bomber out for proms." (Jimmy Muth, Haverstraw, N.Y.)

- "Sell live film footage of George Bush showering with his dog." (Leslie Gorman, Fort Worth, Tex.)

- "Mug Canada." (Kyle Kelly of Dubuque, Iowa, and Mike Orsburn of Gainesville, Tex.)

We also got a lot of suggestions that we do not totally 100 percent understand but that we are presenting here as a reminder of the importance of remembering to take our prescription medication:

- "Make deer legal tender." (Jon Hunner, Tesuque, N.M.)

- "Arbitrarily and capriciously eliminate every other word in government documents." (George Garklavs, Golden, Col.)

- "Sell manure (all kinds) at North and South poles." (Sharon Rice, Oologah, Okla.) (Really)

- "Substitute politicians for road barriers." (Steven Lenoff, Deerfield Beach, Fla.)

- "I have a secret plan. Make me president and I'll tell you." (Richard Nixon)

- "Put it in the bunny." (Travis Ranney, Seattle, Wash.)

You wacky readers! I love you! Please stay away from my house!

But all kidding aside, the time has come for us to work together on this deficit thing. What can you do? You can write to your congressperson. Tell him you're fed up with government irresponsibility. Tell him you don't want excuses. Tell him you want action.

Tell him these are going to be VERY SHARP electrodes.