I expect a little more out of a governor. On Thursday we learned what Otter must have known for weeks: that to balance the 2011 budget we would have to spend nearly all our reserves and would still be $150 million short and have to cut everything, including education by 6% to make it all pencil out.
But the Governor seemed to have little substance and almost no policy proposals, no ideas for making up the staggering shortfalls. Sure today he informed legislative leaders he plans to eliminate funding for Idaho Public Television, the Idaho Human Rights Commission, the Commission on Hispanic Affairs and the three agencies who advocate for people with disabilities. Together all these agencies make up less than 1% of the budget. Cutting them is not a budget solution, it is an ideological proposal which shows the deepest of disrespect and the most twisted of priorities. In fact this particular proposal seems intentionally cruel.
Do these sorts of cuts even remotely address our looming budget problem or make the state a better place for anyone? No. In fact the governor said several times in his speech that he doesn't know what the solutions to our budget crisis are.
State Budget Committee Co-Chair Maxine Bell said to me after Otter's speech, and she's been around long enough to know, "It will get better. It will pass." She had a vision of getting through this, but she, not Otter inspired a hope for a return to prosperity sometime in the future. I wondered if our Governor could at least ask us to pull together, to spend our wages at Idaho stores on Idaho goods, volunteer and donate to soup kitchens and homless shelters, donate money to help teachers and principals in neigborhood schools get by.
Has Otter given up on the future and on asking the people of Idaho for help, for sacrifice to get our neighbors and the children of our state through this hard time? Where is the guy who vetoed twenty bills trying to get a tax increase to build more roads? Has he resigned himself to cutting health and education budgets as the only and most recurring policy proposals he is willing to make? Will he cut deeper and deeper with each passing quarter next year, regardless of whether there may be a point at which the cuts worsen the economy, lay off too many workers, weaken consumer spending, and bog down the safety net that is feeding and sheltering families of the 800 people a week who join the thousands whose unemployment benefits have finally run dry?
If cutting another 2% from Idaho's bare bones school budgets is ok, is cutting 6% then? Where does it stop and do we as Idahoans have to step in and do the hard task and ask if maybe there is only so far we can go in balancing the budget on the backs of Idaho's school children, college students, the state's poor, elderly and people with disabilities?
I ask would you rather see every agency cut by 6% in the year ahead or is there some tax you might pay some small amount more of to avoid the crowded classrooms, the long lines, the wait for permits, the gated parks, the hungry or homeless neighbor, the loss of recourse when you are fired from your job for no other reason than your gender, your race, your disability, your age or your religion?
Nationally the economy is recovering. Some states are still deep in recession, and, while we are in a budget hole for 2011, Idaho does not face nearly the worst budget situation in the nation. We do seem to face the greatest lack of leadership to create jobs, inspire confidence and address head-on this short term crisis before it stifles our economy and the capacity of our state and its people to heal and prosper together for the long term.