It is certainly true that the battered economy has made a bad situation far worse, but it is in no way the cause of the $5.4 billion deficit. The economy didn't send the deficit to that level, irresponsible spending did.
When you look at the agency requests for the next two fiscal years, government spending increases by more than $2.3 billion! We know that economic times are tough to say the least, yet government bureaucrats are requesting massive increases in spending. This is the biggest problem we are facing at the state level - spending beyond our means.
I realize that we have a commitment to funding education and funding basic infrastructure - not to mention unemployment benefits - but the line has to be drawn somewhere.
Our legislative leaders face a very important decision - do we raise taxes, continue to play budget shell games and raid the transportation fund, or do we say that times are tough and we need to do without some of the programs we currently have? We need to cut spending, but my bet is the legislature will do the former, just take Senate-Majority Leader Decker's response to the DOA's report:
“The new budget numbers are disappointing, but not surprising given the state of the national economy. States across the nation have been bankrupted by Bush Administration policies that drove up fuel costs, shipped good-paying jobs overseas and sent money that should have been used to spur job growth by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure overseas to an ill-conceived war. The least President Bush could do before he leaves is to get on board plans to send relief to the states.That is the whole statement. No edits. Rather than actually talking about really cutting programs and trimming the fat, Sen. Decker blames the whole thing on the Bush administration. Now, President Bush has certainly made mistakes on the economy - as LIB has consistently pointed out - but this is absurd.
Our state was on track to closing our gap before the national economic storm hit us. Now we must take further action. We will need to tighten our belt even further, but we must also do what we can to put people to work now. The best way out of this is to mirror the efforts at the federal level to stimulate the economy by protecting the jobs we have and creating new jobs. Growing our way out of this is the only way to move our state forward.”
The current budget mess is largely Sen. Decker and his colleagues' fault. The economy has made it worse, but the underlying problems have been there for a while. Rather than take responsibility he passes the buck and shows a complete lack of leadership and seriousness about the budget deficit.
The state borrowed money at amazing levels in order to help "balance" or "repair" the last several budgets, yet all that did was add to our mandatory spending in debt service. Also, as I mentioned above state agencies are requesting $2.3 billion more than this year. If we hold fast on our increases the deficit drops to $3.1 billion. Still a large number, but a lot smaller than before.
To get the rest of the way we need to cut spending. I know it isn't popular, and a lot of special interests may get mad, but we don't have a choice at this point. Raising taxes hinders a potential recovery and we cannot afford it, so we have to cut.
I have not yet had the time to look through the full 188 page report, but I am certain we can find significant amounts of money in programs that are not necessary. I know that previous requests for the Stewardship Fund have totaled more than $120 million for the biennium. While I am all for the preservation of natural land and wildlife habitat, I think that such a large appropriation designed solely to purchase land is a luxury that we cannot afford at this time.
I'm sure there are other areas where we can save money as well, and as I get the chance to read the full agency breakdown I will share them with you all.
This is going to be tough for a while and I know there will be resistance to actually cutting spending - just look at Senator Decker's comments - but it has to be done. We are all hurting and struggling to make ends meet. Government should not be exempt from having to work this less. If we are serious about fixing our budget problems and creating jobs we will start to make cuts.
If not, this will only get worse.