Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Think Like a Business--Furlough Your Autistic Kid Until the Economy Improves

It turns out my Tribune column ran on Monday instead of Sunday because Bob Schuster, the Tribune's editorial page editor, wanted to write about the cuts in programs for the developmentally disabled in his regular Sunday column.

The legislative leadership's budget is a good thing for the public debate. They can't make their budget numbers "work" without going after funding for autistic kids, substance abuse, day care, and child immunizations.

So there are three possibilities:

First, the GOP leadership is stupid; there are plenty of other cuts available that wouldn't cause this sort of harm, but they aren't bright enough to find them. I don't want believe that, but you might.

Second, the GOP leadership is evil, and they really want to make these disfavored groups suffer and bear the burden. I don't want believe that either, but you might.

Or given all the practical realities of life in Arizona today, this is the "best" they can do; the result of "just cut spending" is to force families to put autistic kids up for foster care, among other outrages. Oh, they may have all sorts of excuses how that really isn't what they want to do, and try to pass the blame, but that’s the actual result.

And despite their claims to the contrary, it's not really a "tough decision" because, frankly my dear, they just don't give a damn. If you just don't care, it's amazing what isn't important anymore.

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 10, 2003

I hope this budget season has proven educational for worshippers at the shrine of “just cut spending.” Those tiresome clich├ęs about belt-tightening from Valerie Manning and the Phoenix Chamber -- we’re seeing exactly what they mean.

Take developmental disabilities funding. The GOP budget proposal slashes funding for families making under $40,000 annually, and eliminates it for those making more. Sounds really dry, doesn’t it? But it means that Brad Wierck’s family will have to put their child with cerebral palsy into foster care, or face going bankrupt.

In The Tribune last week, Wierck eloquently begged the GOP Legislature not to be both simultaneously cruel and short-sighted -- because forcing disabled kids into foster care eventually costs more.

But tough times require tough measures. Shouldn’t the Wiercks think like a business, and lay off a kid or two until the economy recovers?

Maybe Cheryl Parker should have considered the business cycle before she discovered her son Dexter, age 4, had autism. The budget’s tight. It’s too bad for the families involved, but the problem is too much spending, right?

Take substance abuse programs. The good thing about eliminating state funding for drug and alcohol rehabilitation -- which would force Mesa’s Community Bridges program, which last year served 12,000 people, to close -- is that those folks don’t vote in GOP primaries. And when local police and paramedics have nowhere to take homeless substance abusers, they’ll returns the streets but still won’t vote in GOP primaries.

Some might consider balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, the sick, and the abused somewhat, well, indecent. But when the economy slumps, there’s no money to observe such fripperies as what the Bible says about the least among you and all that.

It’s a recession -- we can’t afford values. Gotta cut spending first, last, and always.

There are plenty of other “hard-nosed” (and hard-hearted) GOP budget desires. The Legislature wants to stop helping some 2,200 elderly people remain in their homes. Maybe some of them will scrape by, but if they wind up in institutions, those bills won’t hit until next fiscal year.

Some 14,000 kids will lose day care; maybe their parents will find a way to keep their jobs -- but if not, too bad.

We also can save some bucks by not immunizing some 24,000 underinsured kids before their second birthday. We’re not requiring they get sick; we’re just cutting spending that might prevent avoidable diseases.

GOP legislative leaders get very annoyed when anyone points out the human costs of their budget plans. They claim to care about people and kids and blah blah blah. Just not enough to avoid making them suffer.

That’s the clear and unavoidable results of what all you “just cut spending” people have long demanded. If there were easier, better, and less painful cuts available, wouldn’t the legislative leadership have suggested them instead?

The GOP leadership, whenever anyone protests the human costs of their proposals, demands to know your alternative. There are two answers to that question. The first is Gov. Napolitano’s budget. Of course, the GOP doesn’t like that answer, because they care more about accounting principles than about autistic kids, substance abusers, or keeping the elderly in their homes. But that’s how they think.

The other answer is that we’re in this mess because of GOP “just cut spending” ideology. Having to sacrifice child care, immunizations, and help for families with a child with cerebral palsy are the logical, direct, and inevitable results of a decade of heedless tax and spending cuts.

Hey, all you “just cut spending” people: THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED. So start apologizing.

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