Rereading my previous post, I realize I never clearly enunciated what it is that bothers me so much about the Seattle Times’ editorial bent. It’s just that they make the notion of running government on less money sound so easy. In fact, not just easy, but downright obvious. I guess that explains why they feel no need to explain how to do it.
Once again, take for example DNR’s Natural Heritage Program. Faced with declining revenues and no stomach for tax increases, the governor and the legislature cut DNR funding about 22 percent from the previous biennium to the current. About two-thirds of DNR’s budget comes from royalties generated from timber, grazing, farming etc. on the public lands it manages, but declining commodity prices have meant declining revenues there too. Altogether, DNR’s budget has shrunk from $325 million in the 07-09 biennium, down to $267 million for 09-11.
You wouldn’t know it from reading the Times op-ed page, but DNR, like other state agencies, has responded to substantial cuts in revenue by substantially cutting spending. In addition to attrition and hiring freezes and stuff like that, DNR has gone through three rounds of honest to God layoffs, shedding 114 full-time employees — you know, warm bodies… real live people — or roughly 9 percent of the department’s current workforce. And these weren’t for the most part Olympia bureaucrats; these layoffs occurred in small towns throughout the state, where losing just a half dozen jobs or so can be a real blow to the local economy.
A tough revenue forecast makes for tough decisions, and one of the tough decisions DNR made was to stretch its limited resources by offsetting part of the cost of the Natural Heritage Program with user fees from the timber companies, developers, and government agencies who use it. I suppose DNR could have reprioritized, leaving NHP’s funding intact (and services fee-free) at the expense of other programs and services, but you know, for every NHP there’s… well… there’s another NHP. Are the cuts going to come at the expense fighting forest fires? Regulating clear cuts on steep slopes? Barring a new revenue source, the cuts are going to have to come from somewhere.
And all the cutting and slashing that’s been going on at DNR has been going on at nearly every other state agency as well. You wouldn’t know it from reading the Times, because that doesn’t fit in with their lazy waste/fraud/abuse meme. No, the Times never writes about the thousands of state employees who have lost their jobs — further depressing our local economy — because they’re too busy expressing outrage that the remaining state employees still enjoy the same kind of health care benefits newspaper employees used to enjoy as recently as a decade ago.
For the most part, the Times doesn’t really want government to be smaller, they want it to be cheaper… or it least, if they do want a substantially smaller state government in terms of the scope of services it provides and infrastructure in which it invests, the Times doesn’t have the balls to say so. Instead, they just harp on the government’s refusal/inability to cut costs, all the while ignoring the huge cuts that have already taken place, and the very real impact these cuts have produced.
Which just strikes me as lazy.