What do voters think about the current budget debates at the state and federal levels? If we go by the major headlines, we want cuts to the public budgets and no new taxes. Or do we?
Now that the realities of the proposed cuts are coming into focus, it is unclear if the budgets proposed so far actually meet the expectations of the public that will be impacted by the changes. Such is the nature of major change—it all looks good from afar, but when it comes to our own sacrifices, we see ours as too large and others as too small.
The gridlock at the federal level with the near-federal government shutdown will be amplified as Congress and the White House debate the 2012 budget. But we are now realizing the cuts of the current budget compromises. Included in those, hidden away in the obscure portion of the Labor Health and Human Services budget, is a small dollar amount cut with large implications—the elimination of funding for Learn and Serve America funds. These are important dollars that help young people not only learn experientially (especially important for those “hard to reach” students), but also promote the school climates we all agree are important to quality learning.
At the state level, a small cut of $675,000 in the massive Department of Human Services budget will not only eliminate all support for the Michigan Community Service Commission, but also turn away more than $13 million in federal funding for national service programs all across Michigan.
To balance our state budget, lawmakers are proposing the elimination of tax credits that have leveraged millions to help local communities through community foundations, food pantries, homeless shelters, arts organizations, and colleges and universities.
Do voters really believe that eliminating support for sound, proven, affordable (bordering on cheap) programs that solve problems that government cannot afford to address directly makes any sense? We may never know, because there is little talk about what the voters actually want.
The Center for Michigan has been working hard to identify what Michiganders want to see in a Michigan budget, but few if any of their suggested reforms have received enough support. They have even developed a tool for citizens to identify how they would balance the budget.
A flood of recent polling indicates that voters are not supporting many of the proposed cuts to programs. Slate Magazine reports all political ideologies oppose the cutting of Medicare – 92% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans, 75% of Independents, and 70% of Tea Party Members. Regarding revenues, the recent Gallop poll shows that Americans do not want lawmakers to remove charitable incentives.
Clearly there is a strong sense that people know that changes are necessary, but the proposals on the table are largely looking to impose change on those least likely to present strong opposition as opposed to changes the voters are telling pollsters they would like to see.
At no other time is the voice of the nonprofit sector more necessary than now.
Submitted by Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO, for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.
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