The Vermont legislature and Governor Douglas are again grappling with the daunting task of balancing the state’s budget. This is beginning to seem like an annual exercise in futility as revenues continue to decline during the worst financial crisis to grip the nation since the great depression.
“State revenues” is a nice way of saying taxes. Vermonters are making and spending less money. The budget must be balanced. Unlike the federal government, Vermont can’t run up a deficit or simply print more money. Historically, the Green Mountain State has solved this problem by a combination of raising taxes and cutting services.
This time it is different. Both the Governor and the Speaker of the House have declared in the strongest terms possible, “NO NEW TAXES”. While no one wants to see their taxes go up, especially retirees, this one-sided approach to the budget gap means working for a solution with one hand tied behind our backs.
There are programs of particular importance to older voters that save more than they cost. Others programs involve matching federal dollars. Then there are costs that are going to be paid either by the state or by the rest of us.
This last is called “cost shifting”. My favorite example of this is road work and bridge repair. Not too long ago, I hit a pot hole so big it blew out both tires on that side and ruined the rims. While the tow driver was hooking up my car, he joked, “That hole is buyin’ me a new fishin’ boat”. Not fixing that road was not saving anyone money.
Cutting grant money that supports the foster grandparents, neighbor to neighbor, and senior companion programs undercut elder independence. The foster grandparents program saves tax dollars by keeping the grandchildren out of the social service program. Independent citizens contribute to the economy and save higher tax dollars. Supporting people in their own homes is less expensive than maintaining them in a long term care facility.
No one likes taxes. These are hard times for almost all of us. But a cut and slash approach to the budget will not solve our problems, it will only redistribute them. Government by slogan may get applause from the crowd and make good headlines, but one has a hard time seeing it as leadership.
Certainly we must cut where we can. But make no mistake, there are services the state provides that are necessary. If the state abdicates the responsibility, money is not saved. People will pay the price. Not some faraway, vague “them”. It will be our neighbors, friends, family and ourselves. The older we are, the heavier the burden will be.
We can’t just keep letting the pot holes get bigger.
Aging in Place, it doesn’t happen by accident.