This afternoon for the third day in a row we are again running quickly through bills. Hours on end of appropriations, memorials, resolutions and legislation with pages and pages of text and meaning. Fortunately for me I have already read most these bills in committee so I can ask questions, debate and even carry those assigned to me with some level of comfort. At some point though now it has started to get a bit mind numbing. Just now the Budget for the Department of Corrections was presented and the roll call vote began before I realized. No one else got up to ask a question, to debate this huge and delicate budget. I stood at my turn to vote and used my 60 seconds to say how I feel this budget will not hold. While the committee tried to keep our prison system from bursting its seams, in the end what we did will utterly fail to do that.
We cut substance abuse funding by $5 million and eliminated a waiting list of 2,500 people because the list of those needing treatment was growing by 300 people a month and our behavioral health division could not even pretend to address its backlog of those with addiction given that funds are not improving but actually again are going to decline.
So when we realize we have barely funded current prison needs, it is clear we are not prepared for prison populations to grow as they have already begun to again now that we are so utterly failing to offer people facing addition any alternative but to end up in prison or some other more tragic state that we and Idaho's families will have to grapple with for lifetimes.
The Idaho constitution requires the legislature to balance the state budget. This is a good thing in my opinion.
I have worried though over the past ten years as I watched the legislature cut corporate taxes again and again in good years, shifting taxes onto families, a shift that puts the state at risk in economic downturns.
On budget after budget, I hear that an agency is likely to run out of money mid year. In this I realize our budgets, or what we are calling adequate funding to create a balanced budget, I realize this balance is, at best, fiction.
Next year I hear Republicans plan to take up "tax reform" and raise taxes (after the elections) to balance the budget especially now that our reserves are gone, the stimulus is gone and we are more than half a billion below 2008 in tax revenue. I fear with the "reform" we will see more proposals that will raise taxes on families rather than any willingness to restore balance between corporations and families.This is a sinister trend and a frightening gamble to pretend this year to have some of these budgets balance to get through the elections when in fact this mound of paper, this funding plan for schools, prisons, treatment, medical assistance and all kinds of bits of government simply doesn't balance at all.