Meridian Star

Columns

December 17, 2013

State and Federal Budgets Ignore Trends

MERIDIAN — What do the federal budget compromise crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray and the state budget plan crafted by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee have in common?

    Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn says it well:  "We're going to raise spending back up, because the political powers that be want to spend more money, rather than be responsible with what we know needs to be done – which is hard work eliminating all the stupidity, fraud, duplication that's going on." (In 2011 Coburn identified trillions of dollars in potential savings from consolidating duplication, weeding out waste, and eliminating special interest subsidies.)

    Yes, this applies to the state budget as well as the federal budget.

    The best that can be said of the federal budget compromise is that it is a compromise and may avoid a government shut-down. But, it increases spending $63 billion for the next two years over the sequester levels, raises fees (pretending that’s not the same as a tax increase), does not eliminate any programs, reduce duplication, or reduce any taxes. And, it never achieves a balanced budget.

    The best that can be said of legislators’ state budget plan is it squeezes most spending, reduces use of one-time money for ongoing expenses, and puts money into the rainy day fund. But, it increases overall spending by $36 million and does not eliminate any programs, reduce duplication, or reduce any taxes or fees. It pretends to reduce the size of government by eliminating 2,296 positions – but these are vacant positions. And, it really doesn’t balance because it still uses $143 million in one-time money to fund ongoing expenses.

The best that can be said about both budgets is they provide, temporarily, for stable government.  “Temporarily” because those in the Congress and the Legislature know that long-term spending trends will overwhelm their budgets unless significant changes are made. These budgets ignore those trends and dodge needed changes.

    Consider health care costs. Medicare and Medicaid at the federal level and Medicaid at the state level have dire trends. Much higher funding levels will be required to sustain these programs.  No changes in spending or funding are in the budgets. Indeed, the state budget unexplainably low-balls Medicaid, recommending nearly $5 million less next year than this year.

    Consider pension costs. Social Security, federal employee, and military pensions at the federal level and PERS at the state level have dire trends. The federal budget compromise made minimal changes in federal employee and military pensions, but no changes in Social Security. The state budget plan left out $52 million required to fund underperforming PERS for the coming year, but proposed no changes in PERS spending.

    “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government” – Thomas Jefferson.

 

Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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