Home by the wood stove. The weight of tomorrow's first vote on budgets hangs there as I walk out of the brown marble halls and home through the fog and frost. What might look like numbers on a page are jobs, things not bought from Idaho businesses, smaller pay checks. Lives.
We had Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) school today. Five of us are new on the twenty member committee. Jim Patrick and three of us Democrats sat like children at the feet of Cathy Holland Smith, JFAC director, patient teacher and former wizard of prison and health budgets. She speaks slowly, smiles a lot and tucks gems into budget writing stories and seeming off-hand bits of advice.
This morning in committee we went through maybe 20 pages solid with numbers. If you drift for a second, whole parts of a page are lost and figuring it out means that you miss what comes next. And every number has something to do with someone's life. Do I grasp and picture what every number means fully? I don't think anyone knows all the lands where the parks are to be built, the people who say they need new ballistics vests, the people who have survived a bit of life because they could check in to Franklin House rather than facing a break down alone, in a cold hospital or in the very home situation that helped them to the brink? I try.
As a member of this committee we are given a book that is six inches thick, and, front to back in numbers says how more than two billion dollars in sales and income taxes flow out over the state, to hospitals, fire crews, social workers, judges, women who teach high school courses to men in one of the State Prisons.
Scott Bedke, long time budget writer, poked his head into our little class room. He is one of the brightest and is now a member of house leadership. There was a time, when I was a freshman years ago when he spoke kindly of me, said I had potential or smarts. He used numbers to say it. Now he steers clear more. I've challenged House leadership in more ways than I can count. I know it tarnishes how sweet I might have seemed and makes me into something more sinister than a young law maker who is OK with numbers. I'm graying and serving in the Senate and he is in charge of the House Republican caucus now.
Scott's advice to our little JFAC class was that we pull back to an altitude, 40,000 ft, to vote on budgets. Others have said this as well and today I know why. If you are too low you have to look into everyone's eyes as you vote.
We have to cut hundreds of millions out of next year's budget soon. How can you look in that many eyes? I think you try. You ask for understanding and you work to protect the most vulnerable. That is so relative. The most vulnerable. You might agree not build a park in order that more people can get medical care. Still the cement company owner may close down and the man who hoped to get a job there will have none. But these are the choices we make. How many people can we feed with one park?
From 40,000 feet the food line stretches pretty far and the park sits gated and empty and waits until later. The cement truck owner joins the food line. And we look out over the mountains and hope everyone is willing to step up and make a little sacrifice of their own. I will. I have a list because I know now how much others are giving up. When I come down from 40,000 feet I look into their eyes.