Sunday, April 06, 2003

A Muffler Shop Is Sacred, But Kids Are Disposable

I enjoyed the bit in the Diamondbacks' announcement of their gift, that it was the largest in team history. That stretches back, what, five years? But despite the headline chosen by my editor at The Tribune, this has nothing to do with generosity and everything to do with the proper role of government.

Unkindest Cuts

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 6, 2003

The Arizona Diamondbacks organization did a wonderful thing this past week, announcing the largest charitable donation in team history -- $100,000 -- for research into autism. The team also committed to give another $100,000 in the future.

It’s not clear if the gift is an immediate payment or a multi-year pledge, but assume that the D’Backs will give $200,000 to help cure autism this year and next. It’s a tremendous gift, and everybody involved deserves our praise and acknowledgment.

But the team’s generosity is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the Arizona Legislature plans for autistic kids -- in the other direction.

The GOP leadership budget proposes to cut $51 million from programs for children with developmental disabilities. About 1,600 kids would lose their services. And if you think that the Legislature will restore those cuts next year or the year after -- well, that’s not just gullible, that’s so out of touch with reality that you probably need therapy, too.

The Diamondbacks’ total gift represents less than 0.2 percent of what the GOP plans to slash from therapy for these kids in just one year. Every politician who says that charitable giving will replace government programs is either being deceitful or hoping that you stay ignorant of the numbers involved. The largest single gift in state history to autism research is some three orders of magnitude less than the GOP leadership’s proposed cuts.

Also, like many other charitable donors, the Diamondbacks committed their money to research. The funds won’t provide services to autistic kids who need help now. That’s only sensible; there’s no way to treat 1,600 kids with these severe disabilities for only $100,000 a year. That’s why it costs $51 million.

No private donation would make a difference in meeting that vast need. No donor wants to give money to solve 0.2 percent of a problem. Only state government has the financial power to make a difference in the vast and relentless task of helping children with developmental disabilities reach their fullest individual capacities.

Let’s hope and pray that the Diamondbacks’ gift helps find a cure for autism in the future. Meanwhile, what happens to children with developmental disabilities until that cure gets discovered? Are the kids just supposed to wait and hope that cure is somehow retroactive?

What kind of legislative leadership believes that years of a child’s life -- heck, crucial years of some 1,600 children’s lives -- just don’t count? Will autistic kids magically get two or three years of their lives back when the economy improves and the GOP perhaps acknowledges other priorities than cutting taxes? Yeah, right.

These numbers-matter-more-than-people Republicans probably want to tell kids with developmental disabilities that they should stop looking for government handouts and pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Too bad that these are kids we’re talking about, kids with problems that prevent them from communicating or understanding such concepts, much less acting on them. But that’s what’s driving the GOP budget proposals, an ideology that ignores real-world results affecting real people.

The GOP legislature also is trying to limit local governments’ use of condemnation, where a city can acquire property through legal action. Of course, the city must pay just compensation, but “Fast Eddie” Farnsworth and his buddies argue that each piece of property is unique, and people shouldn’t be forced to sell even if they receive full value.

Meanwhile, if Fast Eddie gets his way, some 1,600 kids -- whom you might think are unique, too -- will lose all their services and their hopes for fuller, more productive lives for at least a couple of years.

That’s the Arizona Legislature for you: A muffler shop is sacred; kids are disposable.

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