by Max Brantley
First of all, he said (and the Arkansas Republican Party duly cheered) that he'd "cut" his fiscal 2013 budget and said his office had "11 percent left of the FY 13 budget."
UPDATE: I'd earlier made some estimates based on published Department and Finance Administration figures on what this meant, but the office has now elaborated with specifics and it actually worsens the earlier comparison.
His office said Darr's budget for fiscal year 2013 was $399,991 and total expenses were $354,433, or more than $45,000 under budget. Sounds good.
By way of comparison, in Lt. Gov. Bill Halter's last full fiscal year in the lieutenant governor's office, FY 2010, actual expenditures were, according to DFA, $301,739.
Thus, it would appear Lt. Gov. Mark Darr is spending almost 17 percent more a year than Bill Halter did three years ago. OK, so there's been some inflation. Your pay went up 17 percent during that period, didn't it? But it puts in some context Darr's boast about coming in under budget. If the budget is inflated, it has little meaning. For another day, we can argue whether ANY dollar spent by ANY lieutenant governor is a dollar well spent. What's that old Arkansas saying? "Teats on a boar hog?"
PS — A veteran legislator says constitutional offices are traditionally budgeted loosely with an expectation that they'll spend much less than budgeted. And try to make something of it when they do.
But we have bigger pork chops to fry.
Darr's record in private business and household finance isn't sterling. So he should have known better than to top his own misleading boast about office expenses with a more bodacious claim:
I'm perfectly fine reducing ALL government by 13%. Will push for it next time.
I invite you now to turn to the most recent full year number on state expenditures, 2012, available from the DFA website.
There, at a glance, is the $21 billion state budget (a figure that counts federal money and cash funds, both substantial contributions, particularly relative to Human Service, higher education and highways.)
Let us ask where Lt. Gov. Darr would cut $2.6 billion?
But let's make it easier.
Let's just ask him to cut 13 percent, or $585 milion, from the $4.5 billion in state general revenue expended in 2012.
In theory, until enough Republicans are elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court, the $1.9 billion in the Education Department is off limits, lest the state run afoul of the adequate and equal education mandate of the Arkansas Constitution.
So now Darr must cut his 13 percent from only $2.6 billion. $585 million is better than 20 percent of that amount.
There's another tough wrinkle, though. Most of the money spent by the state on Human Services is matched by the federal government, about $3.50 for every state dollar. So, if you cut 13 percent, or $130 million from the billion-dollar general revenue allotment for Human Services, the state would lose almost a half-billion more in federal money. Does Darr propose that the state cut more than $600 million in nursing home, sick child and other services? Or would he turn to the rest of state government, or about $1.5 billion in total expenditures, to get all of his $585 million in savings — more than a one-third reduction in every agency left.
But let's make it as easy as possible. How would Darr apply even his 13 percent cut to the State Police? Take troopers off the road? Would he apply it to the $310 million spent by the Correction Department and release prisoners to save $40 million? The system houses around 15,000 inmates, so would Darr cut 2,000 of them loose? Does he cut higher ed spending by 13 percent? No, because of the constitutional prohibition enacted with the lottery that expressly prohibits legislative reductions in support to higher education.
So easy to talk arbitrary budget cuts. So hard to do.
This is a subject that requires more than Twitter's 140 characters. It also requires more than empty boasts — and partisan regurgitation — from a fellow who's had trouble balancing his own household accounts. Sad to say, too many voters like the sound of this sort of empty talk. And don't think much beyond what they hear.
Show us the cuts, Mr. Darr. A good start would be for him to say which job he'd cut in his own office. He says he's "perfectly fine" with a 13 percent reduction in government. That would be roughly $43,000 more from his staff.
Or else turn off the Twitter.