In December, Gov. Mike Leavitt introduced a budget that balanced the needs of the roads and the needs of the people. Almost immediately, legislative leadership responded with proposals to cut 40 percent of the governor's increases.
As the legislative session has progressed, legislative committees have begun to pass funding proposals that compromise the governor's vision. This vision was eloquently stated in his State of the State address Jan. 19. In it, the governor said that we would never have all the funds to overcome poverty, domestic abuse and other societal ills. However, he said, we must "do what we can do."The governor's budget is not excessive. It simply provides fair budgets for needed programs. Yes, there is an estimated $190 million gap in revenue needed to implement this budget. To date, legislative response shows the scale is tipped too far away from the needs of the people.
Think about a few things in light of what you believe. Without appropriate and accountable funding:
- Poor children will starve physically and intellectually. Job training programs and child-care opportunities for poor parents will be underfunded. Without them, these people will not be able to move from welfare and their kids will continue to suffer the many ills poverty brings. There is not a better indicator of low achievement than is poverty. Schools in areas of high poverty are drastically underfunded. Forty-five of these schools presently receive extra funds through the governor's Highly Impacted Schools program. There are many more schools that need funds.
- Many children will continue to have inadequate health care. Ninety-three percent of children have some sort of health care insurance. The governor proposes a way of providing insurance for the remaining 45,000 needy children who do not have it. These children are at very high risk of school failure. You can't learn if you are sick.
- Middle school students will continue to be educated in classrooms with too many children and not enough teachers and assistants. The middle school years are a critical turning point for all students.
- The roads will not be ready for the Olympics. We don't have a choice here, either. The road projects must be funded but not at the expense of our children.
Not all of the needed services demand extra funds. Our state is involved in a very innovative initiative that brings together families with service providers and the community to address the needs of children and youth at-risk and their families. The Families, Agencies and Communities Together (FACT) initiative uses existing funding from five agencies with community resources to address the very human needs of children and their families. State and local agencies are restructuring existing programs to allow for the heavy commitment required by FACT.
FACT works. But FACT will not work in the long term if needed programs are not adequately funded.
The governor is inviting us to take a risk. It is not roads vs. people. It must be people AND roads.
Gov. Leavitt, please stay the course. Your well-earned popularity and leadership skills are needed now more than ever. With them, you can use your "bully pulpit" to encourage the Legislature to fund your budget for the sake of the future of our great state.