24 January 2007

$150 Million

The more I think about the $150 million that the Palin administration wants to cut from the operating budget, the more I think it makes little to no sense. It's not a way to strengthen the state but to weaken it.

The reason it doesn't make sense is that it's an entirely arbitrary figure that has no basis in reality. Someone just picked the figure because it sounded good and now the administration is busy asking its departments where they can cut funding that will total $150 million. Budget-cutting for budget-cutting's sake does not make any sense to me at all.

Cutting the operating budget is only going to weaken the state. Speaking from a rural perspective, there is very little fat in the budget to trim - there aren't enough Troopers or VPSOs; school districts don't have enough money; the prisons are overflowing; there's not enough job-training money; the list goes on and on. And the answer to these problems is to cut funding even further?

I agree that there is always administrative fat to be cut and when an organization spends several billion dollars a year, some of it will be wasted. And I have no problem cutting any of that. I also realize that the budget is balanced on a fairly high level of the price of oil. But the response to that shouldn't be to immediately cut spending. The response should be to take a "big picture" look at the state's finances on both the spending and the income side, start some long-term planning (a fiscal plan anyone?), and then decide what needs to be done.

An immediate cut to spending essentially amounts to putting the cart before the horse. If a thorough review of the state's finances reveals too much spending (or not enough income), then it makes sense to consider what steps are next, including spending cuts but also, to use a common euphemism, "revenue enhancers." That's likely to spark a large debate but a debate worth having.

But the Palin administration is short-circuiting that debate and settling on budget cuts as the answer, with little rationale and apparently to prove her fiscally-conservative credentials.

What is most surprising is that so many members of the state legislature are going along with this goal, not apparently realizing it is an arbitrary number, set to accomplish a political (not policy) goal, that will only damage Alaskans more.

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