Archive for Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Budget choices necessary

January 28, 2009

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In the face of a mounting — and frightening — deficit in Kansas, the Legislature is now in the midst of rancorous debate over the best way to make cuts in state government. The governor has proposed targeted cuts with the goal of preserving K-12 education and selected social services. The Republican majority in the Legislature has been drawn instead to across-the-board cuts of all state agencies (with the exception, one might hope, of essential services such as state police). Arguments certainly can be made on both sides. Nevertheless, I believe that across-the-board cuts are the less desirable.

The primary argument made in favor of across-the-board budget cuts is that of fairness. According to proponents of this position, in a time when everyone is at risk, the best means of allocating “pain” is equally. All should suffer equally. While fairness is certainly a laudable goal, there are, I think, at least two strong arguments against it in the current situation.

First, we must ask whether an across-the-board cut to all state agencies is fair when, in times of prosperity, increases in funding are not allocated equally, but, on the contrary, are targeted. Is it truly fair that in good times, some agencies benefit more than others, but in hard times, all share the cuts equally?

One could argue that such a scheme is, in fact, regressive. Richer, better-funded programs, are better able, in many cases, to absorb cuts, than poorer programs. There seems little doubt that a 3 percent cut may devastate some state agencies, while a 5 percent cut might harm but not destroy other agencies that have more resources to begin with.

A second argument against across-the-board cuts is that these do very little to promote efficiency in state government. Agencies and programs that have been efficiently managed and waste fewer resources will not be rewarded for their efficiency. Indeed, one could argue that efficient agencies and programs will, in fact, be penalized for their past efficiency because they will have less “fat” to absorb the across the board cuts than less efficient, more wasteful agencies and programs. It seems strange to me that Republicans, who constantly speak of the need for greater governmental efficiency would support a strategy that goes against this goal.

Finally, and to my mind, most important, across-the-board cuts completely ignore state policies that are designed to further state economic goals through funding those activities that, in the minds of the legislators, are priorities. Across-the-board budget cutting ignores policies and priorities.

I have always believed that the most important role of the Kansas Legislature is to further the public policies favored by Kansas citizens and expressed in the choice of legislators through the election process. It seems to me that the failure by the Legislature to consider policy priorities in setting a budget is a failure to do what they were elected to do and a betrayal of those who voted them into office.

I do not, by this column, intend to endorse the governor’s policies that lie behind her targeted cuts. Instead, my goal is solely to point out that the Legislature needs to consider whether across-the-board budget cuts make sense. I don’t think that they do. Instead I believe that the Legislature has a duty to establish a budget based on what it considers to be the state’s priorities and to present that budget as an alternative to the governor’s proposal. Then the Legislature and the governor can have a meaningful policy debate. They owe it to the people of Kansas to do so.

— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

Comments

SettingTheRecordStraight 6 years, 2 months ago

"...the most important role of the Kansas Legislature is to further the public policies favored by Kansas citizens..."Unless those policies do not reflect the limited powers of government enumerated in the US or Kansas Constitutions. Therefore, to oversimply things, our government has its hands in far too many aspects of our lives.

Bruce Bertsch 6 years, 2 months ago

The idea of accross the board cuts in an abrogation of the duty of the legislature. Instead of actually making decisions, they take the easy way out, even if it means renegging on a court settlement for K-12 Education which is mandated by the Kansas Constitution. They will also be cutting assistance to higher education even though studies show that during times of economic distress, enrollment INCREASES. This leaves administrators in the position of being forced to increase tuition to be able to absorb the increased student population. It also means that more scheduled maintenance will be deferred which impacts the physical facilitites. As the Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman has repeatedly written, the idea of mandatory balanced budgets during a time of recession is at best counter-productive. It's akin to pouring gasoline on a fire.

SettingTheRecordStraight 6 years, 2 months ago

moderationman,Instead of spreading the wealth around through the government programs you and your friends find most important, how about we spread the cost around by requiring students to pay for a larger share of the benefits they receive?

meggers 6 years, 2 months ago

I'm in favor of mandatory, across the board salary cuts for the legislators that are in favor of this cowardly bit of legislation. When re-election time comes, it's easy to say that you were fiscally reponsible and voted in favor of across the board cuts- the part that's left out of this self-congratulatory tripe is that seniors and the disabled lost the services they needed to survive, parolees went without monitoring, children suffered increased abuse in foster care systems due to a lack of oversight, crime increased due to cuts in law enforcement, mental health, and other services, and the list goes on.I think that if most people knew the scope of these proposed cuts, they would be justifiably appalled.

KU_cynic 6 years, 2 months ago

This is a typical Hoelich column: a somewhat pedantic appeal to some idealistic notion or high principles, and then absolutely no details on the nitty gritty on how to get things done. Thanks a lot, Hoef. I join you in asking that the sunflower state Solons in Topeka exercise their wisdom with care and prudence.Wanna buy some swamp land in Florida?

JHOK32 6 years, 2 months ago

Across the board cuts sound fair on the surface. However, if we dig a little deeper we find that it penalizes the most efficient of our many local and state departments and agencies. Those department heads wise to this approach will have already "padded" their budgets to withstand these types of cuts. Those departments who are already operating in an efficient manner(i.e. do not have any "fat") will be punished for their good work and hurt the most. The end result is that it does exactly opposite what taxpayers would like to see.....an efficiently ran government. The message to department heads will be clear: next time "pad" your budget to anticipate this kind of unfair across-the-board budget-cutting tactic. So in the end, we end up with all departments & agencies operating with "padded" budgets, and therefore, we inadvertently encourage wasteful government. Is this what we want to foster? Think about it.

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