Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting state spending 10 percent across the board as a solution to the state’s budget woes, and you’d think he called for lacing the water supply with a combination of salt and LSD.
Defenders of spending are cropping up all over with comments like, “It’s not happening on my watch,” or the ever-popular “dead on arrival.”
What is it about this idea of cutting spending that makes it sound so far-fetched, and causes it to be dismissed out of hand? Since the state’s predicament is mirrored at the local and national levels, maybe we should look at this.
When this option has come up in the past, well-meaning spending defenders dig deep and come out with an all-star team of sacred cows. In no particular order, these may include babies, the elderly and disabled, the armed forces, the poor and education.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list, and anyone who has ever launched a government program knows that at the start they are all set up to do good things. Indeed, all of the groups mentioned above (and more) are in need of special consideration, and receive it. Whether it is enough may be the rub.
At the individual or family level, when an income crisis like losing a job comes along, we seem to have a pretty good idea what we have to do. The vacation is out, we’re not getting the new car, probably eating out less, and maybe time to re-think job/career. In some cases, harder choices come up, like which bill to pay among rent/mortgage, food or medical care. If we have savings, we’ll be tapping into them, and if not, we’ll get in line for some government or church assistance.
It’s not a fun drill, but after we get over the shock, we figure out a way to manage on what we have. In time, we grow, get back on our feet, and hopefully move on to something better. Maybe it is because this experience is so painful that we don’t want anyone (especially the groups above) to have to go through it. The example above magnifies and distorts the problem beyond what the Governor is proposing, in that losing a job is a 100-percent loss, whereas he is proposing a 10-percent cut.
Yet, we’re all suspicious when we see this, afraid that it’s my program (my job) that’s going to be cut. If we had trust that the cuts would indeed be even across the board, and ask our managers to allocate the remaining 90 percent in humane fashion, we could all probably survive without too much fuss. Even the mammoth federal deficit could be brought back to balance with across-the- board cuts of 4 percent a year for four years in a row. What is the cost of not facing up to this? The state’s bonded indebtedness has increased dramatically in the Schwarzenegger years, and as a result, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts state interest spending will increase three times more than that for K-14 education over the next five years. At the federal level, continued operations at are greatly dependent on the largess of China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.As stewards of government, we have resolved to evade the issue. It all seems to keep rolling along, but whether the ship of state is headed for Fantasyland, Tomorrowland or is the Titanic headed for the iceberg, is never quite clear.Cutting spending indeed appears to be un-American, at least in America 2008, but to continue as we have is an immoral restriction on the fiscal and political choices of our children, and will soon start to cramp options for those of us planning to live more than a few years into the future.