Budget Battles

I’m probably like most people.  I do care about how much the federal government and even the state government spends and where our tax dollars go.  However, I also believe that when the government officials go to cut the budget, they must do so efficiently and effectively.  That is something easier said than done since that would require going through things in great detail… eliminating funding for programs that don’t work or are wasteful and leaving funding as is for other things.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives earlier in the week passed a budget for the remainder of the 2010 fiscal year which cut $61-billion dollars.  This was mostly done at the request of the new freshman Tea-Party Republicans.  I wonder if there has ever been a freshman class of Congressmen (and Congresswomen) who have had this much clout right from the beginning.  But I digress on that issue.  Yes, the federal government has spent a great deal more money than it has taken in between 2007 and the beginning of this year.  Both parties, Democrats and Republicans, have contributed to this kind of spending.  And during a recession, I think it is vital to keep more money flowing to make sure things don’t collapse entirely and to shore up holes that suddenly appear.  However, it is also a time when governments should look toward the future and where they can begin to cut back so deficits aren’t running so high.  Unfortunately, this last part of the equation wasn’t done.  So in last year’s midterm election that was pretty much the calling card… to bring spending under control.  And that is a good thing to be focused on.  As we slowly start grinding our way forward, it is important for us to start taking our spending seriously.  This should have already been done… and inefficient or outdated programs should have been ousted and other “non-essential” things should have had their budgets cut.

I don’t mind the amount that the new federal budget has been slashed by the House of Representatives.  My problems comes in two parts in particular.  The first is the cut to education.  I’m sorry, but when did it become satisfactory to decrease funding to an education system that has already fallen behind and is failing our kids.  Shouldn’t this be something where funding remains steady or maybe has a slight increase?  We’re already not keeping up with the kids in China, Japan, and most western-industrialized nations… and here we are cutting more money away from this.  The kids of today will eventually have to go out into the world to work and to do the jobs that my generation will be too old to do.  And yet, without a proper education, they won’t be ready for the world that we live in.  Education is the basis of all society.  Without it, we will no longer be a top player in the world, and will be lucky if the nation can even survive.  My mother taught for nearly 30-years in a small and poor school district.  She didn’t care much for the bureaucracy that came with it, but she loved teaching.  She often had to buy her own supplies when the school district couldn’t or wouldn’t.  She did it for the students… to give them the education they would need.  And out there now, there are plenty of teachers doing the exact same thing… going that extra mile to their students.  These teachers should be rewarded with compensation for the money they spend out of their own pockets… or the school district should get the extra income with the implicit instructions that it be used to get necessary supplies for the classrooms that the teachers are requesting.  Funding to education is paramount above all else.  None of us would we where we are today without it.  So cutting funding, no matter the economic situation, just doesn’t make sense.  The business leaders of tomorrow have to learn today.

The second part to my reasoning is probably a bit more personal… and somehow its still educational in nature, too.  The federal budget passed by the House completely cuts all funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which supplies funding to PBS and NPR.  How many from my generation grew up watching Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Reading Rainbow, and various other shows on our local PBS affiliates?  I know I did.  It not only gave me an early start to my education, it also helped reinforce what I was already learning.  Maybe, and there is no way to know for sure, that my love of reading might have come from this media outlet.  Today, PBS still airs Sesame Street, but the kids also have Barney, Curious George, Super Why, and many other shows to teach them how to count, how to spell, how to read amongst many other things.  Even as an adult now, there are times when I find a program that I want to watch… maybe an episode of Nature that is about lions in Africa or Rick Steves’ Europe.  The other day, someone that I was talking to told me that he never watched PBS because he could get the same type of shows from most cable stations.  But it’s not the same… and unfortunately, he can’t see the difference.  All cable stations are commercial driven.  PBS and NPR are not.  There is federal money… which is only roughly 0.0001% of the federal budget, and then there are the donations from the community… the viewers who are pledging and keeping the programs on the air because they understand the value that they are to our community.  When you really need to get above all the hype in the news, it’s usually the news on PBS that you can turn to.  And yes, I know one doesn’t think of national news when it comes to PBS, but it is there.  And as for NPR… there is much you can learn there, as well… local, national, and international.  It’s a whole different perspective on topics… some of which you probably wouldn’t have thought about.  And yes… you saw the number correctly earlier.  The CPB only takes 0.0001% of the federal budget.  Eliminating it would be like emptying your piggy bank to help a charity.  Surely we can find that small sum of cash somewhere else that can be eliminated instead of taking away something so valuable to our community.  The amount of knowledge that comes out of PBS and NPR is priceless.  So where to look… defense? commerce? state? Congressional paychecks?  Yep… you heard me with that last one.  If they are so concerned over spending… rather than cutting all funding to the CPB, why not cut their own paychecks… and maybe pay for their own healthcare instead of making the taxpayers do it?  I’m sure that both of those would be more than plenty to keep the CPB funded at current levels (no need to increase it) and still have some left over.  Sounds simple enough.  But then again… what do I know?  Common sense goes a long way, though.

The budget issues aren’t just at the federal level.  State governments are also having a budget crisis… and the federal government is going to be stepping in anymore to help fill the loop holes.  Again, this is something that should have already been taken care of by the state governments when the recession started… get spending under control so there isn’t such a budget gap.  The state of Wisconsin actually takes top honors, though, in getting national attention.  It did so when all the Democrats serving in the state Senate left the state and sought refuge in neighboring Illinois so that the chamber wouldn’t have a quorum to vote on the budget.  The main sticking point has been the right of public employees to collectively bargain.  The governor of the state wants to do away with it completely (amongst other concessions from public employees), and the Democrats are listening to shouts of anger from those public employees when they left to prevent it from passing.  So what happens now?  A stalemate basically.  A Republican governor and the minority Democrats in the Senate have their shoes dug in.  The Republicans in the Senate and even the unions have come up with compromises.  The unions have agreed to all the concessions that the governor is asking for except for one… the right to collectively bargain.  All the rest of it, which includes pay cuts and a decrease in pensions (amongst several other things), the union has agreed to.  Senate Republicans have even come up with another solution that would eliminate collective bargaining for the next two years only.  But again, the governor won’t budge.  Wisconsin is a state that requires a balanced budget… so something will have to give.  Under normal circumstances, public workers are paid better than private sector workers.  And conservative commentator George Will has stated that even under the governor’s plan that the public workers will still be in a better situation that the private sector workers.  (George Will’s statement was deemed true by Politifact, too.)  I know that all unions aren’t all that great, but in this instance, I’m going to have to side with the unions for basically the one overall reason.  The unions and the public employees are willing to make the sacrifices we’ve all had to make over the past few years.  They are willing to go along with all the governor wants to do except the right to collective bargaining.  They are willing to meet him 90% of the way, but the governor is unwilling to compromise to keep things moving.  Perhaps someone should remind him that politics is a game of give and take and of compromise.

So now you’ve read what I’ve had to say on these particular budget issues, but what about you.  What do you think?  Should the federal government (or any state government, as well) be decreasing funding to our education system?  Should the federal government completely eliminate funding to the CPB and thus bring down PBS and NPR… and maybe leave those workers high and dry in a time when we are trying to create jobs?  And as for Wisconsin, since the unions are willing to meet all but one of the governor’s demands, should the governor be willing to compromise on the last issue to end the stalemate?

The budget must be cut efficiently… eliminating that in which is outdated or is wasteful.  And it is not a one answer fits all type of scenario.  Voltaire once said, “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”


One Response to Budget Battles

  1. Deborah Mraz says:

    Good Lord NO! Education should never be first on the chopping block of spending cuts, but it always seems to be! We have to have an educated nation to compete! PBS and NPR are staples! Come on! I cannot imagine Sesame Street gone or NPR gone! That’s un-American!

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