By at least one reliable account, the temperatures at Friday’s public inauguration for Brad Little were too cold to be comfortable, but his words seemed warmer.
He is right in stressing government that reflects Idaho’s values and evolving culture. His desire to prevent federal overreach is not misplaced. However, that term is imprecise. It is used to denote federal regulation of something that is best left unregulated as well as regulations that do not adequately address western or Idaho situations. I believe that sweeping generalities prevent citizens from creatively narrowing down on solutions to problems which are smaller in scope than the term would indicate.
Brad Little is an admirable man. When I’ve heard him speak, I found his words to be thoughtful and measured. Others have informed me of their respect for him as a state leader. That being said, I believe that he sticks too close to the beliefs that smaller government is preferable and that that smaller government should cost citizens less in taxes. I just read my Christmas gift from my (Republican) daughter, “Out of The Maze,” by the late Spencer Johnson and saw a reason why these two beliefs have stuck around for so long.
Once upon a time, those beliefs were accurate and addressing them made sense. Forty years ago, there was not enough capital in the markets to finance the innovation that was waiting to create both jobs and a better standard of living. At the same time, there was a significant amount of bloat in government programs, which spent money unwisely. In this later case, I do not mean needlessly. The problem with government spending was and is that not enough is spent on gathering the data to measure the effectiveness of programs, shutting them down or changing things that don’t work. Forty years ago, putting more capital in the market and slowing the growth of government worked. Until it didn’t.
Gov. Little spoke about a tighter budget this year. But, should the budget be so tight? There is not enough public debate on how much money should be spent on programs. To be sure, it is easier to figure out how to divide one pie than it is to figure out how many pies to bake to feed everyone who needs a slice. The public needs to know how many pies to bake. It would be both useful and attainable for each department to produce, for public consumption, a proposed budget with enough detail for an average citizen to know where management thinks government money should be spent. After the legislative session, another document should be available saying what had to be cut in people and/or program expense because of how the current revenue pie was sliced. Added funding should also be explained.
Citizens should know what government costs. They should know which things can be funded in a year and, perhaps which can not yet be done even with funding. Examples: a new road, school, social program or major at a university takes more than a year to develop. Has the program been even started with incremental funding? In a sense, the citizens of Idaho (or a county or a city) are the governing board. We depend on the elected experts to make the day to day decisions, but we don’t have easy access to the financial records to properly oversee government’s execution of these duties.
Not every resident may want to spend the time, but many would look at accessible data. The information age has made it possible to make the facts about how government money is spent available to the public at large. Meaningful data about the effectiveness of government programs is collected digitally every day and can be shared to the public. We need current data to make decisions about where government can continue to be useful. We also deserve a chance to decide if additional revenue should be raised for programs we want.