Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Question for Utah Legislators

Spent some time this week picking through what's happening in other state legislative sessions now that most have dotted the i's up their 2010 sessions.  It's impossible to draw a complete comparison between any two states, but it's also negligent to ignore general similarities between states, especially in how they respond to budget deficits, revenue problems, and -- my focus here -- long term planning.  In fact, there is lot state legislators can, and often do learn from the experience in similar states.  One state in particular I'd like to draw a comparison for Utah with is Florida.

Taking a heftier blow from the housing slump, Florida faced a $147 million FY2010 and a projected $4.7 billion FY2011 shortfall, along with 12% unemployment, with nowhere to turn for revenue, having already tried Utah's its-not-a-tax-hike-if-its-a-sin-tax smoker funding ploy in 2009.  And they have gambling to fall back on, but shhhh!  So their response this year?  Well, for Utah wonks who followed the 2010 session closely, see if you can spot the similarities:

The [Florida] Legislature approved a wide array of cutsthat mainly hit programs that assist low and moderate income Floridians, including:  a 7 percent reduction in reimbursement rates to hospitals and nursing homes; the elimination of incentives to state workers to adopt foster children; cuts to funding for Health Start coalitions, which services at-risk infants and pregnant women, by $2.6 million; the reduction of the appropriation to Healthy Families, which aims to prevent child abuse, by $10 million; cuts of $10.5 million from state contributions to county health departments; a $5.6 million cut to development disabilities services [...] deep transportation trust fund cuts; and the reduction of state spending on a higher education scholarship program.

[...] The budget relies on $2.3 billion in recovery funds and assumes $880 million in Medicaid assistance that the federal government has yet to enact.  Ironically, while the Legislature seeks increased federal action on state fiscal relief, lawmakers advanced a resolution, SCR 10, that calls on Congress to amend the Constitution and add a requirement for a balanced federal budget.

Having cut health care funding for Florida families, the Legislature engaged in additional political posturing by approving HJR 37, which proposes a state constitutional amendment to prohibit laws "from compelling any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in any health care system."  Floridians will consider this issue on the ballot in November.

The Legislature approved a bill, HB 1207, to allow leaders in the House and Senate to operate campaign accounts to raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash, but the bill was ultimately vetoed by the Governor.
Okay, that last one was a stand out.  His signature of the great-idea-but-let's-not-really-commit-because-it-might-be-a-dumb-idea Margaret Dayton's gun law implies Gary would never be so brazen as to veto a bill that opened up a campaign cash free for all.  But everything else sounds familiar, right?  We'll ride this one out with our same ideologically driven policies, quietly cash a few federal checks while a-hatin' on the Feds, and hope, nay pray, that this recession ends.  But what about making sure this doesn't happen again?  Hey look over there!  A climate scientist!  Get 'im!

As the Florida session drew to a close, the actions of the legislature pushed one Florida newspaper, via editorial, to ask a simple, and important question:  "Great, you're conservative... now what's you plan for the future?"
Refusing to acknowledge the obvious need for more revenue and a fairer state tax system, the Republican-led Florida Legislature is once again cobbling together a roughly $68 billion state budget with duct tape, bailing wire — and considerable help from the feds. The House and Senate spending plans, due for floor votes this week, mop up money earmarked for long-term uses to fill short-term needs. Lawmakers have no real vision for the future, when the federal stimulus money will be gone and the state's needs will be more critical than ever.

Republicans contend voters want the state to make do with existing resources. But what voters really want is a vision for building a better Florida — not a budget built on contradictions because legislators are too consumed with their political futures to tackle the state's funding crisis.
I know we Utahns are supposed to cheer our legislature for "not cutting education as much as they could have," raising every fee but never a tax, and "standing up to the Feds, grrrr!"  Most voters did.  And admittedly, there were many moments of moderation, pragmatism, and responsible action that unfortunately get washed away in the media coverage by legislators who -- as a friend once expressed to me -- "self select" to be the media darlings (or pariahs) each session.

But with the legislative session wrapped without much more budgetary information leaked out than crossing our fingers and hoping we can ride this one out, and considering the "rightening" of the legislature with the loss of several outspoken moderates who dared to oppose vouchers or suggest increasing a tax or two (RINO's!!!!), the question the St. Petersburg Times challenges Florida legislators with seems equally as important for us here in Utah.

Great, you're conservatives.  Now what's your plan for the future?

1 comment:

  1. David From Sandy5/14/2010 1:14 PM

    Under the leadership of the far-far-far-right-wing of the Republican Party, Our Legislators approved a budget that includes deep cuts to programs that provide essential, life-sustaining services to the sick, the elderly, and the disabled. (My wife is a clinical social worker and consultant to a large number of programs that provide services to the sick, elderly, and disabled; and we are the parents of an autistic adult who receives not one thin dime of support from this hateful state. Our son is on the so-called “waiting list” which should be renamed the “all of your potential caregivers have to be dead before you can be considered for a group home placement” list. Think I’m kidding? Absolutely NOT!)

    K-12 public education is suffering “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” Per-student spending was cut, and the legislature failed to provide funds for the thousands of new students that will be added to public schools in the next academic year.

    BUT. . .

    The news isn’t all bad.

    A so-called “environmental” program called “Rodeo Club” got a generous slice of the budget pie.

    I tell my friends I live in Utardia—The Pretty Hate State.