Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Let Them Eat Asphalt!

In his 2009 State of the State speech, Governor Butch Otter discussed at length the economic conditions that will surely force a pullback in government services this year.

There's no getting around it. Aside from raising taxes, or spending money we don't have (which is prohibited by the State Constitution... THANK GOODNESS!), the only alternative is some significant belt tightening.

Otter continues to push for more money for roads. This an ongoing theme; he claims we need $240/million more per year, just to maintain the existing infrastructure. (He wants to raise the money with a combination of gas tax and increased registration fees. I've commented previously on that topic, HERE.)

Of course, the "loyal opposition" jumped all over Otter's plan to scale back the budget.

Women, children, and the poor, will be hardest hit! (Same old story.)

"My senator" (Werk) even came up with a catch sound-bite, condemning Otter's "Pavement over People" priorities.

Criminy! You'd think only the aristocrats were allowed to drive on the roads! (And if that were the case, I bet maintenance costs would go WAY down!)

Here's some Harsh Reality... at least as I see it.

Reality: We've had a string of decent years, economy-wise, and we've seen government budgets at every level (federal, state, county, city) grow faster than inflation, or population, or any other indicator. New programs have been added, and old programs have been shored up with increased funding. But alas... the party is over. The Feds can continue to spend like there's no tomorrow, and even add new programs, bailouts, incentives, with impunity. (Our grandkids will have to pay it back.) But everybody else is facing some uncomfortable budgeting decisions. (Kinda like responsible families and businesses, when funds are cut back.)

Reality: This is NOT a good time to ask taxpayers to dig a little deeper. A significant number have joined the unemployment lines, for cryin' out loud! (Of course, a more astute economic genius might be able to explain to me, "We are giving you a $1000 stimulus payment... paid by you the taxpayer sometime in the future... why can't you give $500 back to the government?")

Reality: It makes sense that those who will suffer most from significant budget cuts are... the people who use the most government services. (You don't have to be Einstein or that wheelchair guy to understand that!)

Reality: There are people who truly have heavy burdens to bear. But there are also people whose main focus in life seems to be finding every government program they can take advantage of, to lighten their personal load. I know both kinds of people; I bet you do, too. Perhaps Roger Miller said it best - they "know every handout in every town, and every lock that ain't locked when no one's around." Not only that - they quickly develop a sense of entitlement - taxpayers OWE those services to them from that point forward, for some reason.

Reality: It is WAY easier to add a new government program, than to eliminate one. In fact, it's almost impossible to eliminate a program, because it will negatively impact some constituency. I guess we'll find out this year if programs can be scaled back, or maybe even eliminated.

These statements from Otter resonated with THIS taxpayer/citizen:

"... those of us in state government are facing the same kinds of painful, gutwrenching choices that individuals and families all over Idaho are making with their personal finances. And the decisions you and I make will bear on the ability of every Idahoan to fulfill their own responsibilities."

"The question that you and I must honestly answer on every occasion is whether meeting those [real peoples'] real needs falls within the sphere of the necessary and proper role of taxpayer-funded government services."

Frankly, those questions should be asked in the "feast" years as well as the "famine" years, seems to me.

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