A Critical Conversation
By Jason Williams
My DD direct democracy website
Bell Policy Center and ProgressNow Colorado are teaming up to shed light on the state budget. Via TWI (The Washington Independent):
Now that this year's legislative session is safely behind us, maybe it's time to talk about the state budget. That, anyway, seems to be the premise behind a video released today by the Bell Policy Center and ProgressNow Colorado.
The six-minute animated video bills itself as a plain-English introduction to Colorado's budget-where the money comes from and where it goes.
The Old West-style cartoon makes the point that in Colorado's early days when a road or a school or a prison needed to be built, people got together and figured out how to do it. These days, not so much.
"The purpose of the video is to start a critical conversation about state fiscal policy," said Wade Buchanan, president of the Bell Policy Center. "The video helps frame that conversation and urges viewers to learn more."
Learning more about where the money comes from and goes would go a long way to pushing back against Republican dominated legislatures and regressive tax policy. The "blame the public workers" tactic seen from Wisconsin Republicans to push a backwards budget has been a common Republican theme in states like Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana for decades.
The success Republicans have seen pushing even more regressive tax and budget policies on voters as a solution to a problem caused by existing regressive policies relies entirely on there being little understanding of the actual state budgets and revenue architecture.
In 2011, Utahns embraced a set of "bold and ambitious" (sound familiar?) Medicaid "managed care" reforms under the premise that these reforms -- and only these reforms – were needed because of federal expansion of "entitlements." A narrow, ineffective system to "grade" and more easily fire teachers was sold as a solution to education funding problems. Never once in the conversation were state expenditures or revenue discussed. Debate on housing issues, pensions, and road construction play out similarly. State lawmakers seem to have convinced even themselves to forget they hamstrung themselves with a flat tax (part of Jon Huntsman Jr.'s legacy) that hasn't delivered, and corporate friendly tax cuts that haven't produced many jobs.
In Idaho, bills that would mandate larger class sizes and phase out teacher tenure were sold – successfully – as the only option for lawmakers considering the state of the federal deficit. Seriously!
Wyoming lawmakers raised public support for cameras in the classrooms as an serious education reform, while sweeping their corporate handouts for anyone willing to drill for anything under the proverbial rug.
Then there's Texas.
There is nothing new about state politicians seizing national meme's to push their agendas. But it's worth noting that when a progressive tax policy, or a simple "would you pay [X] more per year for better [education, roads, Medicaid, etc] funding?" question is posed, voters -- even in red states -- are on board.
But it's never an option once the legislative sessions begin, and state lawmakers can bank on a lack of understanding of the complicated workings of the budget.
There's an opportunity here for progressives to change the state level frame through education. When voters see where the money is (or isn't) coming from, and where it is (or isn't) being spent, it will be harder for Republican lawmakers or Republican dominated legislatures to blame Obama for having to toss the elderly and disabled, families and the future workforce under the fiscal bus with hands supposedly tied.