Required reading for all Iowans: The DSM Register on state budget cuts

I decided over the weekend that the theme of the week would be “Underfunded in Iowa” here at Daily Disgust.  Critical services in our state are being shorted for no reason other than misguided allegiance on the part of our lawmakers to the Grover Norquist “drown it in a bathtub” school of thought with regards to the size of government.  I was pleased to find that Mike Owen has an excellent post today on Iowa Policy Points, the blog of the Iowa Policy Project, highlighting the Des Moines Register’s recent work on the state of the state budget.

If you never click through on a link from this blog again, please, for the love Iowa, click through and read the following editorial from the Des Moines Register.

Budget-cutting has run amok by the Register’s Editorial Board, Mar. 4, 2012

Staff shortages in Iowa’s prisons have contributed to increased gang activity and violence. More Iowans are receiving government help securing health care and food. Thousands of seniors live in nursing homes that need better oversight. Numerous streams and rivers are polluted and monuments crumbling. Federal grant money is being left unused.

It’s unlikely you will hear a politician say state government is too small. But at some point, it is.

As the 150 members of the Legislature work on crafting the state budget for next fiscal year, they should take note of this fact: Iowa’s executive branch workforce is already smaller than it has been in at least two decades.

According to the Iowa Department of Management, there were 17,968 full-time state workers in January. That is about 2,400 fewer than in 2009. The executive branch includes all state employees other than those working for universities, the Legislature and the courts.

[…]

But some lawmakers want to make government even smaller. They ignore state reports showing tax revenue is increasing. They don’t acknowledge public workers are expected to take on more responsibilities, including implementing federal health reform and redesigning Iowa’s mental health system.

[…]

There were times when making cuts in the state budget were necessary due to economic downturns. Now money is available to better protect Iowans, unclog court dockets, fund education and check on the welfare of the elderly.

It should be spent doing exactly those types of things. That is why Iowans pay taxes: to provide services that we can’t provide by ourselves.

[…]

Of course,you can’t send a computer to check on a foster child. Or inspect a nursing home. Or take a phone call from an unemployed worker. Or talk to a farmer about conservation practices. The work of government is done by people. Too few people means important work doesn’t get done.

(Emphasis added)

Failing to provide vital services when the funds to provide them are available is repugnant, immoral, and simply wrong.  To make matters worse, imposing this type of austerity at the state level is significantly hampering our country’s economic recovery, as explained in Paul Krugman’s column from Sunday.

States of Depression by Paul Krugman in the New York Times, Mar. 4, 2012

…one significant factor in our continuing economic weakness is the fact that government in America is doing exactly what both theory and history say it shouldn’t: slashing spending in the face of a depressed economy.

In fact, if it weren’t for this destructive fiscal austerity, our unemployment rate would almost certainly be lower now than it was at a comparable stage of the “Morning in America” recovery during the Reagan era.

Notice that I said “government in America,” not “the federal government.” The federal government has been pursuing what amount to contractionary policies as the last vestiges of the Obama stimulus fade out, but the big cuts have come at the state and local level. These state and local cuts have led to a sharp fall in both government employment and government spending on goods and services, exerting a powerful drag on the economy as a whole.

(Emphasis added)

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