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States Struggling With Reality   February 17th, 2009
Headlines suggest they're grasping it, some actions suggest otherwise       

 
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I was encouraged by a headline that read "States in a financial pinch looking at drastic cost-cutting measures." Excellent! Some sanity! Imagine the thought of government trying to live within its means. Unfortunately, the story itself suggested otherwise... at least for now.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/17/budget.states/index.html

The flow of economic stimulus money seemingly can't come fast enough for states reeling in massive deficits -- some even laying off state workers and others taking drastic program-cutting measures.


It's like the very concept of a government laying off workers is alien and unthinkable.

Meanwhile Kansas has suspended income tax refunds and may not be able to pay state employees, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius announced Monday...

"This political game the Republican leaders are playing affects real Kansas families," Sebelius said Monday in a written statement. "The Republican legislative leadership is jeopardizing our citizens' pocketbooks for no other reason than to play political games -- games in which the only ones set to lose are Kansas families, workers and schools..."


Political games? Aside from the fact that conservatives have some fundamental convictions that we don't consider games, there's also a matter of state law:

We cannot issue more certificates if the funds will not materialize by the end of the year. Without the revised 2009 budget bill, there is no way that we can legally issue a certificate knowing full well that the money will not be available to retire the debt.


Basically, Kansas law does not permit certificates of indebtedness to be issued if the debt can't be paid--apparently the same year. With the honest knowledge that Kansas won't be able to pay back the debt in question, Republicans are both true to their principles and true to Kansas state law. That's not a matter of political games. That's Republicans doing what they believe is best for their state and also within the limits of the law.

In Washington state, KOMO-TV reports that proposed budget cuts have led to protests in its capital Olympia....

But about 100 union members, state employees, school supporters and health care providers rallied on the lawn of the Capitol telling lawmakers to stop the budget cuts to health care and education and prevent tuition hikes. State employees say they want fair pay, better benefits and pensions and no layoffs.

"We're in challenging times, and I think the government needs to be looking at things in a new way," Rodolfo Franco, president of the Local 304 chapter of the Washington Federation of State Employees, told KOMO.


The irony of this case in Washington is amazing. In "these challenging times," who wouldn't want fair pay, better benefits and pensions, and no layoffs? Everybody wants that but, instead, people are taking pay cuts, cuts in their hours, and are even being laid off. Why should we believe that government workers are somehow exempt from these hard times?

Especially amusing was the the quote from Rodolfo Franco. The government needs "to be looking at things in a new way?" The concept of cutting expenses to meet tax receipts would be a new way for government to look at things. Standing up to unions and saying, "The money isn't there" and making the necessary cuts would be a new way for government to look at things.

We as a nation, as states, and as individuals, are precisely where we are because we haven't been looking at things in a new way. We've been borrowing and spending for half a century. And now we must look at things from a new way: Cutting costs and being fiscally conservative. We need to do it at the national level, the state level, the local level, and as individuals.

It's no longer optional. Reality has caught up with us.

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