Slash the budget,
That’s our plea;
Just don’t cut
What’s dear to me.

Budget cuts are slippery.

What happens when your state cuts aid to municipalities or the federal government cuts special help to your local school? Who ends up getting hurt most?

It’s not always easy to follow, because elected officials generally seek to obscure who’s really at fault. They often try to pass the blame to someone else, slow the impact until they’re out of office, or focus as much of the damage as possible on people who don’t tend to vote. These are ancient techniques.

Pensions are a good example. All levels of government cheerfully underfund them, especially in times of low interest rates, like now. They figure it will be their successors who have to raise taxes to pay them, or else renege — or declare bankruptcy.

School aid is classic too. The federal government helps fund schools in impoverished areas, as do most states. But when dollars are short, that item is an easy cut. Then either the local (poor, remember?) taxpayers pony up the difference, or the kids lose. They bear the brunt of the layoffs, bigger classes, and fewer arts and sports programs.

Then there’s Medicaid. Its job is to provide health care to low-income folks. The federal government supposedly splits that cost with the states, but what happens when it’s broke? Simple: they cut federal support for Medicaid and leave the states holding the bag.

Thanks to an anti-tax pledge most Republican politicians have taken, GOP-controlled state legislatures are rendered unable to raise taxes. That means many states can’t raise more money to cover the gap in their Medicaid budget, so they just cut their payment rates for doctors. Many doctors then can’t work for those rates and stop accepting Medicaid patients. And, when Aunt Minnie’s diabetes goes untreated, she dies.

Not surprisingly, these tough times foist other budgetary fallout on the poor and voiceless. How about prisoners only getting two meals a day, as is happening now in Texas on weekends? Or food stamp cuts that force the poor into still more cheap empty calories? Daycare is likewise getting hit, along with early childhood education. The poor are losing heating programs and housing subsidies, and services for the homeless are scant.

Some cuts will potentially make everyone less safe. In some areas, city councils are ending the fluoridation of water, and there are places in America where the firefighters will stand by and watch your house burn to the ground unless you’ve paid a fee for their services. And now Mitt Romney wants to privatize health care for our veterans, which would erode the VA’s services even more.

These are the kind of cuts that could get Republicans in trouble in 2012.

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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