Friday, March 5, 2010

No Alternatives?

The tag line of the majority members of the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee as they set budgets this year has become, "There isn't any alternative." What I believe to be the most telling of this commentary is the implicit defeatism. It is saying that we in the legislature have no control. If that is true, everyone should be worried.

Consider this quotation from Senator Jim Hammond (R-5):

I’m not comfortable with this budget either. I don’t like it. But I truly don’t see an alternative. As I return home each weekend and I talk to those businesses who have already laid off 30, 40 percent of their staff and are trying to stay alive, they beg me, ‘Don’t tax me any more, don’t raise my taxes, don’t raise the taxes of those employees that I still am able to employ.'
Luckily, the issue isn't an absence of alternatives, but instead the insistence to prefer a slash and burn strategy over a protect and preserve. The slash and burn strategy adopted by the majority is indicative of the defeatism their mantra suggests. However, defeatism doesn't have to win the day, although it likely will. There are several options to improving state budgets that don't include raising taxes, including:
  1. Delaying the implementation of the elections consolidation - $8 million
  2. Collecting on unpaid taxes - $30-40 million
  3. Reforming the parole system - $10 million (approximately)

There are also of course those pesky exemptions and delaying the increase in the grocery tax credit, but there are alternatives. It is an inconvenient truth for the majority that the alternatives exist, and they don't have to be in the form of a tax increase.

Now I do believe that every efficiency in government should be found and any waste needs to be cut. However, there is a point of diminishing returns. We have reached that point. Many students, especially struggling students, will be irreparably harmed by the current budget proposals. The elderly and disabled will be cut off from services that they need to survive. In some cases it is literally a matter of life or death. The corrections budget will put the public safety in jeopardy. That is not hyperbole or propaganda. That is the stark reality.

We have a decision to make and it's a very important one. Do we believe that government should be shrunk, no matter what the costs or do we believe that long-term and social costs should also be considered. My philosophy is the latter. We are not defeated. Idahoans can make it through this difficult time without leaving those in need behind.

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