I'm a little conflicted here. I understand that political leadership, like good parenting, means saying no at least as often as saying yes. It means facing reality, recognizing our limitations, and doing the best we can with what we have.
But sometimes political leadership also means doing something politically difficult to do something right. Yes, making cuts is hard. In South Dakota, it's even harder to ask folks to pay more to avoid those cuts. Are we really so strapped—or so cheap—that all of these cuts are necessary?
- Eliminating the increasing/decreasing enrollment supplements for K-12 education
- Shifting more education costs to local districts (remember, Pierre is already 50th in the nation for state share of education funding; Rounds proposes dropping the state's share from 57% to 55.3%)
- Removing the sparsity factor from the K-12 formula (never mind the state's constitutional obligation to educate all children, even the ones in Bison and Faith)
- Banning nearly all out-of-state travel by state employees
- Cutting medical aid to pregnant women
- Cutting flu vaccines for kids
Governor Rounds did show some fiscal courage yesterday in requesting some fee increases... though he still had to euphemize them at the start of his address as "updates." He recognizes that obtaining more revenue is part of the solution.
However, as he has done throughout his administration, Governor Rounds largely abdicated his leadership on the revenue side. As usual, he made the idea of raising taxes sound like a threat, daring legislators who want to increase spending or just preserve important programs to explain how they'll find the money... as if proposing straightforward ways to pay for our priorities is a moral failing.
As I said, it takes political leadership to face reality and live within our limitations. However, Governor Rounds appears to set our limits from an ideological starting point—no new taxes, no deficit spending—and then forces the budget to fit those conceptions.
If things are bad, maybe it is time to set ideology aside and just get things done. Maybe we need to break with tradition and engage in some deficit spending (Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize in Economics, and he thinks deficit spending is o.k.). Maybe we need to propose some tax increases to cover our shortfalls (Governor Janklow did that in his first term).
Political leadership does mean saying no, and we're going to hear a lot of no from Governor Rounds and our own District 8 Senator Russell Olson. But District 8 is also sending Representative Gerry Lange to Pierre; expect him to demonstrate the other side of political leadership, the side that responds to, "No we can't" with "Yes we can, and here's how."