Monday, March 1, 2010

Weekly Opinion/Editorial

by Steve Fair
The normal course of action for individuals and families when money gets tight is to cut expenses. No one in their right mind says, ‘we need to spend our way out of this situation.’ Only the most irresponsible would say, “Get the checkbook- we need to spend more!” That is exactly what the federal government did with the stimulus and bailout monies. The question is- will Oklahoma government be more prudent than the feds?
You have to understand that government lives in an ‘alternate’ state of reality. In the real world, the definition of a budget cut means you get less money than you did the year before. In government, a cut means you get more than last year, but less than you ‘expected.’ So when you hear CUT, that doesn’t necessarily, mean CUT. By that defination, I've had a cut every year of my life!
Oklahoma state agencies are facing budget shortfalls this year (up to 1 billion), just like Oklahoma taxpayers, businesses and families. Estimates are that agencies could face up to 18.5% less than what they expected to get. That’s substantial, but so are the budget shortfalls for taxpayers, businesses and families. Government is facing the same economical challenges the private sector is, but their response is not the same. Businesses and families face economical downturns by reigning in their spending and cutting back to essentials. Government agencies respond by hiring taxpayer funded lobbyists to lobby lawmakers to ‘reduce the impact of cuts’ by raiding the Rainy Day Fund. Their goal is to continue business as usual- and who can blame them.
Last Thursday, the Oklahoma State House voted to spend three fourths of the State’s Rainy Day Fund- $447 million- to make up for shortfalls in the next two year’s budgets. "This agreement is consistent with our desire to spread out our reserves over the current and forthcoming fiscal year, while also saving some in the Rainy Day Fund for future use," said Rep. Ken Miller, R-Edmond and chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. "This is a fiscally responsible compromise that protects core government services like education and public safety as much as possible, while streamlining government and using taxpayer dollars in an efficient manner." The House also voted to give ‘supplemental’ monies to several agencies to ‘reduce the impact of cuts.’ Education (Common and Higher) got $130 million dollars, Corrections and Public Safety got 10.2 million, and Health Care and Rehabilitative Services got $34.2 million.
Reduce the impact of cuts? What does that actually mean? Allow me to illustrate- If a parent told their child they were going to cut their child’s allowance from $5 a week to $4 a week because times were tough, the child would not be happy. If the parent then reached into their other pocket and gave the child three quarters to ‘reduce the impact of the cut,’ the child would be sent a mixed message. The child would ask themselves: “If they have that ‘extra’ money to give me, perhaps they have enough to give me my entire allowance. Are they playing games with me? Is there really a crisis? It’s my duty to try to get ALL my allowance back.” Because politicians have ‘played games’ with bureaucrats for years, state agencies never take budget cutbacks or reductions seriously.
While a parent who tries to “reduce the impact of the cut” may have honorable intentions, the lesson they teach their child is not one a good one. They are not teaching personal responsibility. They are not stimulating creativity by challenging the child to find a solution for a very real problem. Teaching a child to be dependent on the parent by providing a ‘safety net’ may make the parent feel good, but it’s not responsible parenting. Tough times- economically, spiritually and physically- present excellent opportunities for us to grow as individuals. They build our character and prepare us for life.
When a parent never lets their child stumble or fall, they are not doing them any favors. When the legislature doesn’t let an agency struggle, they don’t do them any favors. It doesn’t allow them to seriously evaluate what is ‘essential’ to their mission. It’s doesn’t allow them to intimately evaluate personnel who may have skills sets and abilities not being utilized. The Oklahoma House, like an indulgent parent, did not do several state agencies any favors last week by ‘reducing the impact of cuts.’ They provided a safety net that will guarantee business as usual.

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