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Mom needs to tell the Legislature it can’t have everything

Mom needs to tell the Legislature it can’t have everything

Wayne Hoffman
February 20, 2015
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February 20, 2015

When I was a youngster, my mother used to tell me “you can’t have everything.” And as a child, I really wanted everything—the latest everything that the 1980s could offer: a video game console (the Atari 5200) with lots of amazing games, the incredible state-of-the-art Tandy Color Computer 2 with a full 64k of memory and a new Emerson color TV.

“Can’t have everything,” Mom reminded her spendy son. She later abbreviated the phrase for simplification purposes. “C-H-E,” she’d chide.

I might enlist my mom to visit the Idaho Legislature, which really does seem to want everything—a 7.4 percent increase in spending for schools, an overall spending increase likely to top 6.5 percent, not to mention the mega increase in spending being proposed for state highways and bridges.

At some point, the Legislature needs to prioritize the way I did, the way we all do when running our households or personal budgets. If you need a car, the new washer might have to wait. The mortgage payment probably ought to supplant the vacation. The old computer might have to do until the medical bills are paid.

We also take time to examine on what we’ve been spending. It might not make sense to have a gym membership when you can’t afford to feed your children. Electricity is more important than cable television.

Alas, the Legislature is not like your household. Such financial contemplation doesn’t generally take place as it should in government. There’s an assumption that what we’ve been buying needs to be bought in perpetuity. The starting point for next year’s budget is last year’s budget and everything contained therein.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that lawmakers have an option not open to the rest of us: tax increases. And tax increases are what’s being contemplated at the Statehouse in Boise, when we really ought to be doing the opposite of that. People are hurting. They can’t afford to shovel even more money into government programs.

“C-H-E,” as mom would advise. Rather than raise taxes, cut spending. Prioritize. Remove something—several somethings—from the new spending the governor contemplates. That’s about $200 million to consider, and that doesn’t even include the as-yet-unspecified transportation tax and fee hikes.

Being fiscally conservative would yield shocking results: It is very much possible to provide adequate money for state programs—including schools, including employee salaries including roads—without raising taxes. Indeed, by reining in spending, it’s possible to fund state services and actually lower income taxes to below 7 percent from the outrageous current rate of 7.4 percent.

Such an outcome requires an extraordinary amount of discipline on the part of lawmakers, who are just getting ready to start allocating spending in next year’s budget. It means saying no to many of the things the governor has requested including dubious proposals contained in more than $100 million in new spending for public schools as well as resisting proposals for more corporate welfare.

I still have that old Emerson TV, which I skimped and saved to buy.

The other day, my 14-year-old son asked if I’d buy him a new game.

“Can’t have everything,” I told him.

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