Monday, March 27, 2006

More Screwy Budget Logic--From My Own Paper

Here's this week's installment. My proposed headline was "WWJD Means 'We're (un)Willing to be Just and Decent' " but the editor went with something far less poetic. If you want to read the offending Tribune editorial that set me off, it's here. The Kyl piece telling how the middle class benefited oh so much from the tax cuts (ha!) is here.

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 26, 2006

If anyone ever doubts that the United States really isn’t a “Christian nation,” The Tribune’s editorial last Tuesday proved it.

Called “What to buck from state budget? Despite healthy surplus, some worthy proposals must be left out of the funding pie,” The Tribune showed that the Pharisees eventually won. Religion's role in public life has been reduced to bashing gays, restricting women, and cutting taxes.

The editorial almost, but couldn’t quite, endorse Gov. Janet Napolitano’s budget request to spend $8.5 million providing some 3,000 seniors with in-home care, to keep them independent and out of nursing homes, and $1.5 million to hire 30 more elder-abuse investigators.

The Tribune couldn’t actually support the increased funding, even though increasing in-home care should save money through better health outcomes and reducing the need for more costly full-time institutional care. And The Tribune probably believes that elder abuse is bad, too, but just isn't ready to actually do anything about either problem.

Instead, we got a hedged, mealy-mouthed quasi-endorsement: “More support for elderly care could easily fit onto [the Legislature’s] priority list, as long as we keep in mind that someone else probably will have to be turned away this year.”

Isn’t that just special? Maybe we could improve the lives of 3,000 seniors (and save money to boot) and increase the number of caseworkers, as now there are so many more seniors (and abuse reports) than five or ten years ago. But The Tribune can’t commit, because it views the ultimate goal of our constitutional democracy as “keeping our taxes as low as possible,” and if that requires ignoring 3,000 seniors and not investigating all elder abuse reports, then that’s the price of freedom!

The Tribune editorial contains three of the logical fallacies that underlie so much conservative budget bloviation. First, the editorial noted that much of the current state budget surplus appears temporary and thus unlikely to reoccur again, so we shouldn’t fund ongoing operations with temporary dollars.

However, The Tribune has no problem with using temporary dollars to justify tax cuts -- which, of course, are also ongoing. With the two-thirds vote requirement, a tax cut is far more permanent than any one-year appropriation. The Tribune can’t commit to helping those 3,000 seniors, because that might wreck future state budgets, but has no problem committing to permanent tax cuts, even though those will wreck future state budgets.

The second fallacy is The Tribune’s claim that “we have been overcharged for what it really costs to keep government running” while simultaneously admitting that we face a court mandate to improve English language learning instruction (which takes money) and want to address the federal government’s failure to reduce illegal immigration (which also takes money). In other words, we have to spend a lot more money but simultaneously we’ve been overcharged. That kind of know-nothingness may work in Washington, where the Bush administration can run the largest deficits in history, but it won’t work here.

Sure, government could be more efficient. But so could The Tribune. With all the improvements in productivity, why hasn’t the cost of my subscription gone down, not up? People working in a dying industry like newspapers may want to think twice about lecturing others about efficiency and value.

The final fallacy is the mantra that state tax cuts are absolutely vital to taxpayers and their finances. But why is that? Haven’t we enjoyed massive federal tax cuts, from which Sen. Jon Kyl claimed March 17 “the middle class benefits significantly”? That’s why he says he wants to extend those cuts -- and not enact new ones.

If you’re middle class, Kyl says you’ve had “significant” tax relief already. So those 3,000 seniors (and child abuse reports, pay raises for correctional guards, and all-day kindergarten, as well as ELL funding and border enforcement) could come out of the state budget, because federal tax cuts already have benefited middle class taxpayers significantly.

What? You’re middle class, and you aren’t paying less in taxes? Either you’re lying, or Jon Kyl is.

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