It is not yet six am. I am dressed and ready to head to the Statehouse. Yesterday we were told the early morning Joint Finance Committee meetings will start. We will have a pre meeting to work out "motions" or proposals for how much money we decide we will really have to spend for state government in the last half of 2009 and the start of 2010. That's medical care, prisons, drug treatment and water quality protection and especially thousands and thousands of people who's job it is to do this work of the state, from teaching our kids to guarding our prisons, safeguarding social security numbers to making sure that feed lots don't contaminate well water.
In a tiny room that is now a library but once was part of the county jail, we will debate how deeply and in what way to cut state employee pay. It is that bad.
Will we use furloughs (days off without pay) or base cuts as deep as 5% or 7% in state employee pay? Some like governor Otter want to lay off employees. I personally do not believe that is good for the economy or for how well our state functions. This is the most Republican state in the nation, the last problem we have is too many government workers or people paid too well. Every new Republican governor finds places to "reduce government." They eliminate departments, cut staff, rearrange things. We are bare bones and state employees, especially those on the front lines, the kindergarten and math teachers, the adjunct professors, food stamp screeners, child protection workers and budget analysts work hard for the pay they get. This won't be easy.
If we cut jobs, unemployment rises more than its current record rate. If we pay families less, some will qualify for food stamps. They have to eat and pay rent and child care and heat and gas and electricity. Hopefully we will give some of them with families food stamps. Those are federal funds we have been stingy with. Our state's laws are different from any other state's. We make people lose everything before we make sure they are able to eat. Its called an "asset test." You can't own anything, just one car, not two, if you or your kids are hungry and need help for a bit. That may be something we can change. I know we need to.
How will our economy recover if families and businesses have to hit the very bottom of crisis before they get help? The deeper they go into crisis, the harder to recover.
Idahoans are rugged and independent. We also, especially in the small towns and older neighborhoods know each other. We need to know each other even in the suburbs. We need to watch out for our neighbors, make sure they are OK. I have something to give still. I'm buying things at locally owned stores and giving to the food bank and homeless shelter. I know i could do more. It is that kind of time. Over fences and in coffee shops, in senior centers and school yards, I think we better ask how it is going. Maybe over a conversation we can help each other out just a little bit and get through this.
Meanwhile, I have to head to the statehouse to vote on how to cut pay for thousands of Idahoans. Not a vote I want to make. There are better and worse ways to do this. May we do the least harm possible.