Friday, February 12, 2010

Can I get a Witness?!

You know when you are watching a television show like Law & Order and they call up the expert witness? To state the obvious they are doing that because that individual supposedly has some sort of useful insight into the situation. The expert's testimony is credible and thus has influence on decisions. In the Idaho Legislature when it comes to issues surrounding budgets and economics an expert witness is just another voice no different than the rest.

At least that is the impression that I get from the decision made earlier today by the JFAC when it set its target budget well below the budget recommended by the State of Idaho's Chief Economist, Mike Ferguson. Rather than follow the recommendations of the expert, members of JFAC decided that they liked the beat of their own drum a bit more thank you very much. Never mind if the beat is a bit slow and depressing.

So why does it matter? The revenue number that they accept and target the budget to has everything do with the amount of money the state spends for services including schools, parks, safety net programs, and countless others. So the lower the number, the more cuts.

To be fair, Mr. Ferguson has been a bit off with his projections the last couple of years. Perhaps this is the response, distrust. However, even with my own education and training and Mr. Ferguson's missed projections, he is still the expert. By ignoring his recommendation, JFAC is making the concerted effort to disregard his efforts.

Frankly, if Mr. Ferguson was new to the team and had messed up early and often, I'd understand, but Mr. Ferguson has been at this game for a long time (longer than nearly all the legislators). The combination of his training and experience are irreplaceable even by a strong gut reaction, like the one exhibited by JFAC. Projecting budgets and the economy isn't easy, especially at a time like now when the economy has been demonstrating some unusual characteristics.

Regardless of the spastic nature of the economy, numbers still work and trend lines can still be predicted. Idahoans deserve that the expert that they are paying for be listened to. Ignoring him and treating him like just another uninformed voice puts our economic recovery at risk and needlessly cuts services that we all value.

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