Thursday, January 22, 2009

Editing the State Budget

There are a lot of times when I'm writing that I have to fit a certain word limit. Sometimes 500 words, sometimes 1000 words. There have been many times when I start work and quickly realize I am at 1,200 words, and realize I have to cut 20 or more out of the story. I usually can't accomplish this by just cutting 20 percent from each paragraph. I have to take out entire sections or ideas that, while important, were not essential to the overall piece.

Our state legislators should take a similar approach to Georgia's budget. Lets be realistic -- with a $2 billion budget gap, you are going to weaken every piece of state government if you just slice 10% out of operations equally. Unless we are willing to increase revenue (doubtful), legislators need to prioritize, and frankly, eliminate, some elements of state government, or we risk weakening every single element to the point where none of it is effective.

Here's my plan: the state should focus on three priorities: education, transportation, and environmental and public health. In other words, things local communities cannot accomplish on their own. If it doesn't fit in those buckets, cut it out or give the money for those functions to local governments or private partners and let them execute it.

What we are seeing now -- particularly in secondary and higher education -- is an evisceration, and it is sad. While I don't support "throwing money" at education, taking money away, especially from one of the nation's best higher education systems, is a tragic mistake.

On the transportation side, the lack of activity and leadership is tragic, although some of the more recent proposals offer hope. Both of these areas are critical areas to our state's future and require state leadership and investment.

Support for public and environmental health -- especially EPD and trauma care. Adding taxes to local health care systems is ridiculous.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that I have friends and clients that operate in all three of these areas. I also have a lot of clients impacted by other areas of state government. But the bottom line is this: does anyone else want to offer up some solid solutions?


Cody said...

Health costs are the big question in any budget -- as you know -- it's the one thing is difficult to budget unlike the other items that can be reasonably projected by economists.

Having the government involved in the funding of public health will only increase costs, especially with baby boomers reaching the age of needing extended medical care.

What is needed is a serious discussion on the ethical and moral responsibilities of government in providing medical services on health. Are we in favor of life saving? Life prolonging? Curing? Treating? Caring?

This discussion is needed to have a budget for states and localities that functions in the long-term.

In the short-term, it will take a specific cuts as well as across-the-board cuts to reduce the $2 billion budget gap.

Unfortunately, I don't give our elected officials much credit for having the strength to address these issues with anything more than platitudes and passing-the-buck to future generations and future members of the General Assembly. Maybe I'm wrong.

Brian said...

You raise an interesting point -- I have seen many studies that show a staggeringly high percentage of healthcare costs occur during the last year of life, which is somewhat logical, but in another sense, the Christian ethicist within me wonders if we are often fighting against a power much higher than our own in some cases.

Cody said...

This issue calls for asking tough questions and trying, as best as possible, to find tough answers -- or at the very least consensus.

While you mention late in life treatments, how do you manage illnesses to children. Or treatments that would benefit the quality of life. Or recovery from non-life threatening injuries.

If ever there was a need for Cicero-style debates, it is now. But, it will take people of great character and intelligence to even attempt to bring it up. And, lest we forget, while the issue if difficult now, the choices are nearly impossible if we delay in starting the discussion.