by Max Brantley
Gov. Mike Beebe has released his findings on state agency impact from House Republican leader Rep. John Burris' proposal to cut $21 million from the state budget, including a 3 percent budget cuts on 11 state agencies.
Here's the state budget, by department, with proposed Republican cuts and the agency responses. In a few cases, agencies say they can absorb cuts by a reduction in operating expenses, without loss of jobs or services. I had to laugh that one of these was the Department of Environmental Quality, which says it can take a cut and still meet its statutory and regulatory obligations. Protectors of the environment think this agency is already failing at that job, in part because of insufficient manpower to keep up with burgeoning waste pits and all the rest. Some agencies say they can adapt by not filling vacant jobs; others say layoffs will be required and delays or cuts in service. Burris will scream loudest at the huge cuts seen as necessary in the Department of Human Services. It treats the loss of general revenue as what it is, a permanent loss as opposed to something that can get a one-time fix of surplus money and then magically reappear. Beebe has said such a sleight of hand only exaggerates future difficulties in financing Medicaid. He's right. But it's also true that the Republicans want to start starving Medicaid now for hoped-for major slashes ahead. Get granny's wheelchair ready to roll her out of the Hills of Eden Retirement Home.
Here's the rundown on Burris' proposed cuts in a group of small miscellaneous agencies. This is the one he wants to mislabel a "mini-Revenue Stabilization Act." It's no such thing. It is a list individual agencies with individual needs. Cut them, they bleed. Again, some say they can figure a way around small cuts without loss of jobs or services. Others, no. Such as a loss of 11 forensic scientists at the Crime Lab, just now digging out from law enforcement agency backlogs. And a loss of jobs at the Department of Emergency Services. When that storm hits Boone County, you can imagine that Rep. Burris wouldn't take, "Sorry, we're shorthanded," as a suitable response.
In all, agencies say they'd have to sacrifice 61 jobs.
Burris won't accept this at face value, naturally. In his defense, the Beebe administration couldn't be expected to say their budget figures were a sham and larded with waste. But for Burris to make a credible case for his arbitrary budget cut, he now must demonstrate, by line, an alternative. Faith-based disputation isn't enough.
Republican paid messengers are already calling job cuts Beebe's fault. Rich. There will be no cuts unless Republicans sabotage the budget in pursuit of their arbitrary agenda.
Beebe met with press this morning and called most of Burris' ideas a "non-starter." He said, however, that he'd be happy to talk with Republicans about cuts but said the Health Department, Forestry, Economic Development and Higher Education are off-limits.
The question now: Does Washington come to Little Rock. Can the Republican minority really cook up an arbitrary idea and refuse to operate government unless it gets its way? And can it get away with saying the majority is to blame for hijacking of the process by the minority? And can it do this without offering specific ideas of its own as a means of avoiding responsibility for the pain? Stranger things have happened on the national level.
UPDATE: Republican opposition again today delayed the procedural introduction of the state budget bill.