If Idaho lawmakers greatly reduce or eliminate funding for the arts or government-funded television, I’ll be convinced that they’re serious about not only getting state spending under control but also rebalancing the proper role of government.
Let me illustrate the dynamic that’s at work here: Let’s say you’re trying to balance the family budget. You really need the car, but you’d also like to keep the cable TV. You go through the reasoning process: The car gets you to work and back, which is sort of important because work is what brings in a paycheck, which in turn allows you to have food and water. Food and water are useful because they help keep you alive. The cable TV is important because you can watch shows like “House” and “Mystery Diagnosis.” That, you reasonably conclude, could save your life one day if you’re ever find yourself suffering from myasthenia gravis or some other unusual ailment you otherwise wouldn’t know about without premium channels viewed in high definition.
You find yourself having to admit that the odds are a bit low that you’ll be stricken by myasthenia gravis, and even if you were, you’d probably go see a doctor, thus cable TV will not be credited with saving your life. Besides, if cable TV were the answer to health issues, Congress would mandate everyone buy cable TV, not insurance. (Uh, oh, I just gave another idea to the politicians in Washington, D.C.)
However, you observe, the cable TV could prove highly useful, if, like Survivorman, you find yourself stranded for seven days in the jungles of Papua New Guinea and you have to set traps for wild pigs in order to eat. Yes, the more you think about it, the cable TV really is Must See TV that could be the difference between life and death. You continue to keep the cable in the budget.
As I’ve illustrated here, you really have to stretch your mind around the notion that, in your own personal budget, the car that gets you to work is on par with cable TV. In Idaho, similar mental gymnastics have to conclude that the state should spend $787,600 a year on arts and $1.6 million a year on government television in light of so many other competing needs. During the last legislative session, lawmakers put the cystic fibrosis program on the chopping block because, some lawmakers concluded, they couldn’t keep spending $205,000 for the adult patients in the program. The dichotomy here is obvious, and the conclusion should be also. In good times or bad, arts and other superfluous programming have to be so far down on the list of priorities as to require a microscope to find it.
This year we’re promised that the reality necessitated by having a budget hole of $150 million or more and the total improbability that the state can sustain the current girth of government without raising taxes will cause some tough choices to be made. We’re expected to see lawmakers discuss in great detail the allocation of finite amounts of money and making choices regarding which functions of government deserve continued support. The only way to prove that they’re making the right choices is if they’re willing to put the state Commission on the Arts and Big Bird on the same table as police and prisons and make the correct decision about which is more important to keep and which should be cut.