Dollars and Sense

We hear a lot of talk from the Governor and legislators about the hard decisions being forced by tough fiscal times, and on this one, I’m sympathetic. When there isn’t enough money to do the things we need to do, finding the least painful cuts can be an incredibly difficult task.

Of course, it is made infinitely more difficult when you begin with a decision to keep your tax rates lower than those in all of the surrounding states.

So, where does HB 1000–our budget bill–aim Mitch the “Blade’s” knife? At education and social services funding. A few examples:

  • The Family and Children’s Fund is being cut by 219 million dollars (with no explanation or justification offered).
  • The 2011 appropriation for Healthy Families, Indiana’s much-touted health insurance program for poor Hoosiers (we don’t need no stinking federal healthcare reform!!) is being cut by 86%, despite the fact that there is a waiting list and the program is turning people away.
  • Health coverage under the CHIP program is also cut. Approximately 7000 eligible children will not be covered–despite the fact that over 75% of the costs of that coverage would be paid by the federal government, and the rest is supposed to be paid out of the proceeds of the tobacco lawsuit settlement.
  • Similarly, hospital care for the indigent is being cut by approximately ten million dollars–but the State will lose twice that amount in Federal Medicaid Leverage dollars.

I could go on and on, but you see the pattern. Mental health drugs are being restricted, making it more likely we’ll pay more through the criminal justice system. Public mass transit–the lack of which is already a huge drag on efforts at job creation–is cut by 15 million. Numerous cuts to K-12 and transfers to Charter schools belie all the rhetoric about improving education–while it is true that simply “throwing money at the problems” won’t solve them, it is equally true that starving public education will only make those problems worse.

I don’t want to minimize the difficulty of funding state government in tough times. But I am struck by three themes that run through these budgetary decisions: the cuts made hurt those who have the least “voice” in our political system (i.e., those who have no lobbyists at the statehouse, and whose displeasure is least likely to be felt at the polls); many of these cuts will actually cost us more in the not-so-long run, making their fiscal prudence highly questionable; and our adamant refusal to look at both the costs and income sides of the ledger not only makes this job much harder than it needs to be, it also benefits the well-to-do at the expense of our poorest citizens.

That doesn’t make either economic or moral sense.