Thursday, January 20, 2011

Not The Right Kind Of "Kick The Can"

We're not exactly sure of what kind of childhood you may have had, but growing up for some of us involved games with other kids in the neighborhood, like "Nine Lives" or "Kick the Can."

If you never had the experience of a round of "Kick the Can," it's a game where the person who is "it" tries to catch all the players who are hiding, and put them into "jail." The person who is "it" is also trying to protect the one thing that can set all those players free - someone sneaking up and kicking over the can, located at homebase.

Unfortunately, in the legislative version of "Kick the Can," it isn't the lawmakers and governors at the state level who are "it" and have to scramble to protect their budgetary cans.

It's the cities and counties.

We've been warning now, for some time, that when the Obama Stimulus money ran out at the end of 2010, that there would be a rude wakeup call for all Americans. Not surprisingly, politicians in nearly every state, at nearly every level, attempted to skew, twist and obfuscate the truth about their city, state, and federal budgetary numbers during the political races last year so that those problems appeared to be someone else's responsibilities.

While that may have been a childish trick, most voters went along with it, and turned politics into a sport, as they too often do. The calendar has turned over, though, and last year's political games have now begun to give way to the political realities of 2011 - like how to pay for the states' fiscal responsibilities.

While California's Jerry Brown has been getting some of the biggest headlines lately, being painted as a Governor trying to steal from his cities to pay for his state's budget problems, he's far from the only example out there.

In Nebraska, the Legislature refuses to deal with the issue by instead putting forth "Emergency only" tax bills, that make the claim that taxes will only go up if the state can't balance its books any other way. Meanwhile, cuts to necessary state services are certain to happen, which will force cities and counties to pick up the tab via higher property and sales taxes.

Without the Obama Stimulus money the states have used to cushion their budgets the last two years, state aid to schools is also projected to plummet in 2011, and likely for several years to come. Unless citizens want to face schools full of kids with no teachers, cities and counties will have to pick up the tab for that, too.

Of course, we're certain all this buck-passing won't stop the state politicians from slapping each other on the back at the end of this year's legislative sessions, congratulating each other on how they were able to balance their budgets again (even though balancing the state's budget is written into the state constitution in most cases - so it's not like the lawmakers or Governors had any choice).

Being fiscally responsible is important to all of us on the Daily Felltoon staff, and we generally consider balanced budgets a good thing.

However, when every state has so many infrastructure projects that need repair or replacement; when there are still massive numbers of people out of work; when private business either can't - or won't - spend, hire, and invest locally; a balanced state budget isn't that much to be proud of.

When a balanced budget is merely a number on a piece of paper, while the actual responsibility of governing continues to be kicked down to the cities and counties, we see little reason for celebration.

This is real governing, folks. This isn't a game for kids - or those too incompetent for real responsibility.

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