I've said it before, but I just can't resist saying it again.
The Legislature's budgeting process is nutty.A case in point. Last week, the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (which at this juncture in the session is about $7 million over the analyst's spending recommendations) was considering budget items for the State Office of Rehabilitation, which functions under the State Office of Education.
Let me set the scene: Room 303, one of the larger hearing rooms, is filled largely with handicapped individuals, each of whom depends for some service or other - often many services - from the state. Some are in wheelchairs. Some are children. But most of those at this particular hearing are either sight or hearing impaired, because some of the budget items on the agenda will deal specifically with programs that affect them.
Among the requests being made by the rehabilitation office is money to flesh out a program in a new center for the hearing impaired and money to finance technology designed to help the handicapped function more adequately in their limited worlds.
In all, requests for new money total about $400,000.
Consider yourself a legislator. In the aggregate, you may think them a strange bunch, but individually, they're nice folks. Like you and I, who are blessed with working eyes and ears and the ability to get from Point A to Point B on our own without wheels, they feel sympathy for those not so greatly blessed.
The rhetoric begins to flow. A humane society has an obligation to those with handicaps. No money is better spent than that used to help those most in need of help. From a practical standpoint, a dollar spent in making a handicapped individual as self-sufficient as possible may prevent a larger expenditure down the line.
Oh, my. I'm so excited. It all sounds so good. I'm so hyped, I think I'll vote for it. And so does just about everyone on the committee - enough to approve the requests.
There are loud rounds of applause from those in the audience. The committee's largesse is, indeed, sincerely appreciated.
So what's wrong with all this?
With the applause still echoing in Room 303, Rep. Lloyd Frandsen, a South Jordan Republican, bless his heart, has cranked up his courage and throws a word of caution into the breach. In the final budget analysis, he says, the money just approved may well be cut. Better beware of legislators who come with fists full of more bucks than they really have, he suggests.
I'd vote for Frandsen if he were in my district.
Immediately, there is a change in the tenor of this meeting. Several others on the committee swiftly join the rush to backpedal and warn the handicapped in their midst that it's true - when the appropriations process is finished, the money they just approved for these programs may well lie on the cutting room floor. Almost certainly, the requests will be cut to unrecognizable proportions.
It's a cruel, cruel hoax and one that shouldn't be perpetuated. When they're dealing with fluid revenue projections, it's simply too easy to please an audience whose needs inevitably seem great - and there's a new one every appropriations meeting.
Get real. Get real. Get real. Use real revenue figures for real budgets that affect real people. It's kinder.