A Balanced Budget With a Costly Outcome

Representative Kirk Adams and other Republican legislators are touting the fact that Arizona now has a balanced budget free of gimmicks or borrowing. Accordingly, we should be proud of our legislators for doing the difficult job the federal government has yet to do and likely, will not accomplish anytime soon.

And how I wish I could be proud of our legislators and proud of our state for finding ways to shore up our finances and erase a ballooning debt. But I can’t.

The losers in this budget play an integral part in our state’s long-term success, and shouldn’t we be evaluating our budgets by more than just short-term gains? Wasn’t shortsightedness part of what got us into this mess in the first place?

We balanced our budget at the expense of education, jobs and the poor. I just cannot understand how we can be proud of those decisions.

I’ve long believed that how government spends its money speaks volumes about what it values. When it balances a budget on the backs of those who can least afford it, it sends a message to those in need… we don’t care.

Sadly, many of our leaders have succumb to the false notion that people in trouble, whether it be financial, medical or other, have only themselves to blame for their lot in life. It’s the idea that we are in complete control of our destinies, and if we just worked harder or ate better or prayed more often, we’d be rich, healthy and happy.

I’m a big advocate for personal responsibility. I grew up in a large Catholic family that had plenty of financial hardships and little room for self-pity. I knew the only way I’d make it out of my situation was to work hard and get a good education. I put myself through college, working multiple part-time jobs and taking on full course loads to finish on time. I survived on little but managed to turn my life around and earn a respectable wage.

So I have no sympathy for individuals who believe they are “entitled” to a good job or an easy life. I have no patience for those who use a lack of fairness to justify a defeatist attitude or criminal behavior. Rather, I have incredible respect for those who’ve achieved goals because of sacrifice and persistence rather than wealth or family connections. I wholeheartedly agree its government’s job to root out individuals who take advantage of safety nets meant to help those who’ve fallen on difficult times get back on their feet.

But I also know what it’s like to be in a situation beyond my control, when personal sacrifice and hard work aren’t enough to change your circumstances. I know what it’s like to have a family member struggle with a long-term illness that was not the result of lifestyle but rather unfortunate genetics. I know what it’s like to drain savings and retirement accounts and still require the generosity of family and friends to help put food on the table. I know what it’s like to be a single parent, raising two young children alone because a gang member murdered your husband.

These were not situations I could have prevented; these were not events I planned for. And yet, it happened, just as it could happen to anyone.

I was lucky in that I had the resources of a large extended family to help me in times of financial distress. I was lucky in that I had the support of an entire community in times of emotional trauma. But there are many, many Arizonans out there like me who do not have the support I was so fortunate to have.

Has our state government become so hardened that we’ve ruled out the possibility that people can fall through the cracks not because of something they did wrong but rather bad luck?

Recently, State Senator Sylvia Allen was quoted as saying; “This isn’t the only time in our history when people had to choose between food and medicine.” This was her justification to ending healthcare coverage for more than 250,000 Arizonans. Apparently, choosing between medicine, which many individuals rely on to keep them alive, and food, which all of us rely on to stay alive, is not really a big deal.

Do we really want to live in a society that has so little empathy for others? Has our moral compass strayed so far off course that we view compassion as weakness?

There were ways to balance the budget that didn’t require tossing out childcare assistance for needy working families or sentencing transplant patients to death or slashing our already underfunded education programs. There are revenue sources available that don’t involve income or property tax hikes.

For years we’ve heard about tax loopholes that allow some services to remain untaxed while similar services pay in. Our politicians have yet to explain why the loopholes exist or why they may be needed, and one would assume that during a recession, ALL options would remain on the table. Why closing the tax loopholes wasn’t even considered is a curious question.

Our state majority leaders also managed to cut services that resulted in negative gains. For instance, cutting AHCCS $510 million means losing $1 billion in matching funds from the federal government. How does that make sense? Analysts have also projected those cuts will lead to devastating job losses in the healthcare industry, which some have estimated at 14,000 plus.

And just this week I read that because the Supreme Court upheld the private school tuition tax credits, there’s already a bill to expand those credits 50%, leading to an additional $25 million in taxes diverted to private education. This on the heels of another $148 million cut from K-12 funding and investigative reporting more than a year ago that found the majority of tax credit dollars went to families who would have sent their children to private school regardless of scholarship monies.

And so I ask, where are our priorities? When lifesaving healthcare is considered a luxury, when education funding is considered too costly, when childcare for the working poor is eliminated, when legislators cut jobs instead of create them, it’s time to have a real conversation about our values or lack there of.

Follow the money trail and you’ll find what our legislators hold in high esteem. Unfortunately, our children and those less fortunate seem to hold little value in this state.

 

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4 Responses to A Balanced Budget With a Costly Outcome

  1. Michele Olson says:

    As a dentist working in a Community Clinic that serves Minneapolis’s poorest and neediest residents, I have seen first hand at how devastating these cuts can be on our population. As I watched former Governor Palenty call himself a cowboy and pat himself on the back for balancing the budget, I also saw many of the neediest and most vulnerable children and adults of the Twin Cities be told they no longer deserve health care, critical medication coverage, and that oral health is a luxury for only the rich. These needy are not illegal immigrants, they are not lazy, they are the victims devastating economic times and hardships, they are persons born with mental illnesses and disabilities. Though I realize how difficult a task the politicians are facing, I question the values we as Americans have. As a health care professional and a mother of a child with Down Syndrome, my heart aches for these now victims of a short-sighted government.

  2. Kathleen Prom says:

    In addition to government programs, there are many private and faith-based non-profit organizations set up to help the poor. The question is, where does government responsibility end, and community responsibility take over? I have struggled with that question myself, and open it up for discussion.

    In my opinion, government should provide for public safety – military, police, fire fighters, etc. Basic education should also be provided. I personally think some basic health care services should be provided. I definitely think there should be some services for the disabled and most vulnerable, including the poor, who have no other resources (family, church, etc.).

    I do believe it is important to balance the budget, while maintaining public safety and protecting the most vulnerable. And where the government leaves off, that is where private, non-profit organizations need to step up and take over.

    I have been the recipient of many programs, both public and private, that helped me when I have fallen on hard times. I have used these programs to help better myself, and I now give back in many ways, including by paying my fair share of taxes. I want to see my tax dollars spent wisely, and I don’t want to be over-taxed. I do give to charity, as many of us do.

    A question I ask is, do you want to spend your money on taxes, and rely on the government to provide for the poor? Or would you rather give your money to a charity of your choice? Can non-profits provide better and more efficient service than the government?

    • Chris says:

      To answer your final question, I would have to say that no, non-profits and charities are no replacement for government action. On the flip side of that, government is no replacement for non-profits and charities.

      The reason is that they do very different things, largely due to matters of scale.

      Charities do a fine job but none have ever come close to being so substantial that they could aid all those in need. Even in the best of times there is always a shortfall. These shortfalls in resources routinely mean that human suffering remains, that people still die who need not have died.

      Thus charities tend to be specialized, and wisely so. They apply their limited resources to areas where they can have the greatest impact, perhaps answering the most pressing needs. Even then, they can never meet all the needs they identify.

      Only national governments have the wherewith-all to meet such enormous needs.

      Some lessons on this can be found in history. One of the most notable being President Hoover’s early 1930’s attempts to resolve the unemployment, resulting hunger and homelessness of the 1929 crash.

      Hoover was easily the most famous American politician of the era for such efforts. He had used volunteerism to counter hunger in Post-war Europe, doing a brilliant job of it and enjoyed world-wide fame for it.

      But the scale of the 1929 crash was simply too enormous, too massive in scope. An entire world economy suffering, no charitable or industry effort could meet the need. It was not until Hoover final year in office that he began experimenting with government spending, essentially stimulus and safety nets, that the tide began to turn.

      Which is when FDR stopped calling Hoover a Socialist and started taking up Hoover’s experiments in his own planning, creating the New Deal in the process. FDR saw that ideas he strongly opposed, that he heaped scorn upon in campaign speeches, were in fact showing signs of working. FDR then changed his tune, flipped completely on the issue of government intervention.

      This is an example of what I like to call Fiscal Intelligence. Dropping party partisanship and embracing ideas that work, that have a track record of results regardless of who thought of them or what one’s political party has to say about it.

      Hoover displayed Fiscal Intelligence and considerable courage in relaxing his ideals of using government only to spur volunteerism to instead take an active role in economic recovery. FDR did likewise by relaxing some of his own penny-pinching old time New Englander ways. Neither made absolute changes, more along the line of concessions, but still very important and powerful concessions to new ideas.

      There are other examples. They become somewhat long winded to offer here.

      Suffice it to say that what we need today are leaders with guts enough to speak in terms of what will work, not what will appeal to their voting base. Sometimes I see small sparks of this, but not much and so little as to be rather meaningless.

      It worries me, it truly does.

  3. Chris says:

    While this blog commentary is about the state budget it echoes well the national situation. Arizona is an extreme example of what is happening on the national scene.

    What is missing in all of this is neither Fiscal Conservatism nor Fiscal Recklessness. We have ample supplies of both.

    No, what is missing is Fiscal Intelligence.

    In a down economy you invest tax dollars in infrastructure and safety net programs. Why is because in a severe downturn only governments have the resources to stop economic slides and spur recovery.

    In a healthy economy you pay down debt, pushing back against inflation and backing away from programs that are no longer needed. The things that you back away from do not include education, health care or security. Those are priorities upon which we must never waver.

    These are neither liberal nor conservative concepts. They are pragmatic, based upon the lessons we may find in our history. Lessons of what works and what does not, and under what conditions.

    On the national stage both sides have practiced them, abused them, lied about them and embraced them to varying degrees. The mixed message of that mess being that ideology, to the point of religious fervor, routinely gums up the works.

    Arizona today is an example where there is far more “gum” than “works”.

    We have no pure pragmatism at play here from any faction. The Left is split along lines from moderate and reasonable to an almost Lemming-like love of failed leftist doctrines. The right is similar but much more extreme. The GOP being run by the baddest actors among them, people claiming invented history and invented concepts will save us from the evils of the opposition.

    America has always done best when led from the middle, when we look upon our political opponents as “Loyal Opposition” not “Domestic Enemies”.

    There is so little middle left these days it is hard to see a way through it all.

    For myself, I quit being a Republican over a dozen years ago.

    Partisanship just doesn’t work anymore, and cannot work so long as it is defined by extremism and hatred. Yes, that applies to dyed in the wool Democrats too. As bad as the Right has become, there are some actors just as vile on the Left. Not as many but they are there exerting influence.

    So long as we break ourselves into Tribes and Sub-Tribes under political banners we will continue to fail. It is why the Founders of this Republic feared the rise of political parties, though they saw no way to prevent it.

    Partisanship is Anti-American.

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