With all due respect to one of my favorite reporters, Austin Jenkins, who works for a news outlet (NPR) that generally tries to put complex issues in perspective rather than grab the juicy angle, I think he is going overboard in a recent blog post,when he accuses legislators of keeping him in the dark.
He asserts that Frank Chopp and I are hiding the answers to the questions “What programs will be cut?” and “What taxes will be proposed to voters to be raised?”
The answer I have been giving, which has caused him consternation, is “I don't know.” But, it is a straight answer at this point.
The nature of the legislative process is about what 98 state representatives, 49 senators and one governor believe is important and also about how they are influenced by their constituents, friends and family, media, lobbyists, stakeholders groups and activists to vote on proposals that become that may be brought forward by any legislator in the form of bills and amendments.
Ultimately, 50, 25 and 1 have to get on the same page about the budget. It is safe to say, given the unprecedented size of the challenge that we really aren't there yet.
Ok. I do know a few things for sure. Virtually every state program that can be cut will be cut. I don't know of any agency or program, except debt service, “basic education”, and legal contractual obligations, that is not being considered for cuts.
This could be done with a meat-axe approach, and take some percentage of all of it, but that is not what most legislators believe is in the public interest. What I mean is, even though we have a problem that equals 25 percent of our state budget, we are not going to let 25 percent of the prisoners out, fire 25 percent of the teachers and professors, and tell 25 percent of the students in schools, community colleges, and universities, and 25 percent of the people receiving state services in child care centers, nursing homes and hospitals to go home.
In the Senate, we are going through every line item in the budget and looking for reductions. We are discussing how to set “target cuts” in each area, so that senators who work on policy and those who work on budget can work together in this awful task of weighing the trade-offs in cutting a child-care subsidy to a single mom or a day health service to an elderly person, or treatment for a mentally ill person who is on the street, or a program that provides special assistance to rural schools, or slot in a community college program to a certified nurse assistant who wants to become a nurse, or a high school dropout who wants to get into an apprenticeship program, or...
The list goes on and these are painful no-win decisions that we will make.
When it comes to taxes, there are limited options. None of them are great.
I have not begun discussions with either senators or my House counterparts about these options yet, preferring to wait until there is more consensus among legislators that we need to go there.
Since we are planning to take any revenue options to the public to vote on, it is safe to say that nothing is going to be imposed on people or businesses in the middle of the night and there will be ample opportunity for public debate.