After reviewing the Joint Budget Committee’s, as well as the Barry Goldwater Insititute’s, recommendations for cutting Arizona’s budget, let’s just say I’m glad I’m not a child anymore. The only thing these reports, often reading like updated versions of Jonathon Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” fail to do to children is alter the state license plate that reads, “It shouldn’t hurt to be a child,” to one that says, “It shouldn’t cost a dime to raise one.”
The two reports’ proposed cuts come almost entirely from DES, AHCCCS and the Dept. of Education. The JBC proposes over $1.5 billion in cuts to education alone (most at the K-12 level) over the next two years. Considering Arizona already hovers around the bottom of the list in per-student spending (and, oddly enough, student performance), the JBC clearly holds to the Fulghum motto of, “All I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten.”
Well, as long as it’s a half-day kindergarten. I mean, why spend all that money on (and I do quote) “daycare” when those five-year-olds have perfectly good TVs waiting for them back at home?
Aside from education, the reports suggest slashing anything dealing with assistance to those with developmental disabilities, autism, or learning impairments, as well as health care for poor children, foster care, adoption services and child support enforcement. No, seriously. Byron Schlomach, author of the BGI proposal, thinks the state should not spend money to enforce child support, because the parents involved should be “held responsible for the expenses of enforcing child support.” While Scholmach doesn’t say how much it won’t cost to not enforce child support, he seems to believe that, should a single parent manage to collect money from a delinquent parent, those funds should be wired directly to the state as reimbursement for…their non-enforcement?
The same goes for adoption services. The state shouldn’t pay for adoption services; the parents should. He writes that, “Parents should be responsible for the children they alone choose to bear.” Regardless of whether or not Schlomach understands what the word “adoption” actually means (and, come on, the above quote suggests he doesn’t), most people giving up children for adoption are doing so because of their youth and poverty. To penalize them, financially, for making responsible decisions is a recipe for disaster.
I mean, only if you believe increased abortions, abandoned children and child-trafficking are disasters.
All said, it’s not a good time to be a minor. But to be honest, these reports don’t paint that bright a picture for senior citizens either. Both the JBC and BGI suggest dramatic cuts to DES and AHCCCS, focusing largely on acute and long-term care. Schlomach acknowledges that with the state’s larger-than-average retiree population, such services are necessary. Still, he suggests cutting back case loads and reducing DES and AHCCCS overhead by roughly $35 million.
According to Schlomach, the best way to reduce case loads is for DES to step up its efforts to police eligibility requirements, and the best way to lower overhead (I kid you not) is for DES to cut, by a third, the money it allocates to the policing of eligibility requirements.
Trust me, don’t bother trying to do the math on that equation. Arizona schools are not yet under-funded enough to produce and teach the sort of “math” necessary to force that equation to compute.
Instead, focus on the good news, which is: despite Arizona’s large population of seniors in need of acute and long-term care, after a year or two of being denied those services…
Well, let’s just say that is a problem that will “take care of itself.”
If any of this sounds particularly heartless, it’s because A), it is, and B), you haven’t considered the true brilliance of the BGI and JBC’s proposed cuts.
You see, both groups are aware (though have failed to acknowledge the fact) that Arizona is likely to receive $3.8 billion in stimulus funds from the Fed soon. A good $1.4 billion of which will be designated for fiscal stability (i.e., managing the state’s deficit). Of course, the state’s deficit over the next two years far exceeds this amount. That said, the $1.4 billion allocated to fiscal stability, combined with sensible cutbacks in some state programs, terminating taxes on things like alcohol and tourism, the capitalization of university-owned stocks and options (acquired via Prop 102, 2004) and limited borrowing would allow Arizona to ride out the current economic crisis without putting an end to desperately needed services or creating no end to our unemployment lines.
The BGI and JBC aren’t interested in any talk of increasing taxes, though. At least not local taxes, which brings me to my point and what is, as far as I’m concerned, a dramatic shift in conservative politics.
A big chunk of the proposed stimulus package (roughly $800 million) is to be used exclusively on educational expenses (everything from Title-1 expenditures to K-12 construction projects). This $800 million in federal aid will almost offset the nearly $1 billion the JBC has proposed to cut from education. Another $860 million is to be set aside for health care (MediCaid and Child Care). This amount will more than offset the JBC and BGI’s proposed cuts to DES and AHCCCS.
You see, the groups are really proposing that we pass services once funded by the state over to the federal government (and its associated regulations). And hey, if you want to call that 21st century capitalism, great, but I’m going to call it what it is: 20th century socialism.
Yep, gone are the days when the Republican party stood for small government and localized control. All hail the days of Big Brother, bloated bureaucracy, and federal mandates overriding local common sense. Brilliant, right?
Well, I suppose there is a small chance that I’m being a bit optimistic about the motivation behind these reports. The cynic in me, to be honest, thinks differently. The cynic in me believes the BGI and JBC, instead of approaching this economic crisis responsibly with the goal of stabilizing our local economy while building for a brighter, more productive future for Arizona citizens, are actually taking advantage of the crisis.
The cynic is me thinks these groups are using this crisis to strip down Arizona’s government, knowing full well that in two years (when the stimulus package runs dry) the state won’t have the financial ability to reverse the decisions it will have made during a time of need and desperation.
The cynic in me believes these groups are using the crisis to create the small, anti-government utopia they’ve been dreaming about since Ayn Rand fled from Moscow. If so, then kudos to them for being loyal ideologues. However, in this time of crisis, the last thing we need is shameless opportunism.
In fact, if the folks responsible for these reports paid a little more attention to recent history, they would know such opportunism has a way of backfiring. After all, many accuse the Bush administration of using Sept. 11 as an opportunity to convert America into a military-industrial complex. Regardless of the validity of that claim, the global perception of Bush’s policies both tainted his legacy (or, as he’d say, “my leg…ya see?”) and crippled his ability to legislate and conduct successful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, pretty much from day one of his second term.
Arizonans won’t tolerate the perception of that kind of opportunism, and we can’t survive the reality of it. We’re facing (locally, nationally and globally) a massive economic catastrophe. Perhaps not the worst ever (yet), but it’s still rough. Now, more than ever, we need to work together to stabilize our economies. Once we’ve accomplished that, then we can return to partisan ideologies.
Of course, that’s the cynic speaking, whereas I’m an optimist. Which is why I want to raise a shot of vodka and salute my friends over at BGI and the JBC. Transferring state obligations over to the fed? Brilliant. Bigger government? Bring it on. Reduced local authority? Heck, you had me at hello.
All that’s left is to convince the nation to continue footing the bill beyond the next two years. And if you can do that, well…here’s to you, comrades.
Here’s to you.