A Balanced Budget With a Costly OutcomeApr 7th, 2011 | By Julie Erfle | Category: state budget
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.