Tuesday, February 22, 2011

There Are Two Sides To Every Budget

I dunno, but our discourse in this country is really just too stupid. I just never understood why when we’re discussing things like budgets, government spending and tax cuts we always address these as separate things. I’m no math whiz but last time I checked, budgets are made of two things: spending AND revenue. Yet our national debate has somehow separated these things as if they are completely unrelated issues.

I just finished hearing an interview on Good Morning America with Mike Huckabee where he goes on and on about how the government is broke, state governments are broke, and we have to live within our means. We all have to tighten our belts. Right. Raising revenue wasn't even mentioned.

And then I read this rundown of Wisconsin lawmakers’ views on Gov. Walker’s controversial budget bill. Most Republicans seem to be supporting Walker despite the thousands of protestors because, hey, the state is broke:
"We have a financial crisis facing the state of $137 million in cuts that's needed to balance the budget by June 30 as we are required to do by the state's constitution and an expected deficit in the 2011-13 budget of upward of $3.5 billion in a budget that hasn't even begun," Lazich said.


"I think the bill was done to cause the least amount of pain," Wynn said. "The state is broke. It's the best way to prevent a lot more tragedy."

And finally, we have Gov. Scott Walker himself, refusing to budge on the collective bargaining issue, despite wage and benefits concessions the unions have agreed to, because, he says

I want to give those local governments the tools they need to balance the budget now and in the future. They can't do that with the current collective bargaining laws in the state.

Walker has failed to adequately explain how collective bargaining prevents local governments from negotiating, or why collective bargaining is fine for some groups (police, firemen) but it’s a budget-buster for others (teachers). Oh well, we’ll just have to take that one on faith since no one in the media seems interested in asking that question either.

But no one asks about raising revenue, either. Gov. Walker signed a bill eliminating corporate taxes back in January; well, if he’s so worried about future budgets (since the unions have made concessions addressing the current one), then why did he cut revenue? Why, when we’re trying to balance budgets, is it always done on one side of the ledger sheet? You can’t cut revenue and then all of a sudden go “oh my GOD we have no money how did THAT happen?!”

I mean, I thought the whole conservative ideology was that tax cuts were stimulative. Apparently they aren’t, since we’ve been cutting taxes on people and corporations for years now and the result appears to be a fiscal crisis from the federal level on down to local governments. Guess this just proves you guys have been wrong all these years, then.

And if Walker's tax cuts are supposed to be so wonderful for the economy, then I'm sure local governments won't need to worry about ditching collective bargaining for certain groups of workers because the money will just be flooding in to government coffers.

No? Well why the hell not? Why did you cut all those taxes, then? And maybe y'all ought not have done that? Ya think?

Of course, we never draw these conclusions because we always address spending and revenue as completely separate issues when they are quite obviously part of the same conversation. I just have to wonder how the hell that happened.

We just went through a few weeks of yammering about extending the Bush tax cuts which affect the wealthiest individuals in America; now suddenly we are yammering about a national budget crisis. We have people like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin and other conservatives talking about the need for Americans to sacrifice. Clearly, since they just supported tax cuts to the wealthy, they mean other people need to sacrifice -- not the millionaires and billionaires, the ones who can most afford it. They mean the people already living with tight belts. That's just immoral.

I mean, I’m just waiting for Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric or someone to ask Walker (or any legislator) this question: “You cut taxes and now you complain the government is broke. Did you flunk math in school?” Forget raising taxes, how about just leaving them where they are for a while?

But no one asks these questions because we always treat these two issues as if they weren’t connected. And it’s such an obvious failure on the part of the national narrative that I have to think it’s intentional. With that in mind, I direct readers to Amy Dean’s Huffington Post column today. She writes:

While the particulars of each individual battle are important, in the end this is not about one state. It is about confronting the disturbing tendency among our lawmakers to seek scapegoats rather than real solutions to our nation's most central problems.

Yes, I think that’s the nib of the nub. As long as no one slaps their forehead and says, “wow maybe we shouldn’t have tax cuts at a time when our budgets are already strapped and we’re killing sacred cows like education,” it’s so much easier to scapegoat middle class public employees and sell the idea that eliminating their rights will solve everything.

I mean, seriously. There are two issues at work here. Why are we only talking about one of them?