Archive for Thursday, December 20, 2001

Graves must provide leadership in his last year

December 20, 2001

In his eighth and last year, Gov. Bill Graves is being tested by his first real crisis, one created in part by his unwillingness to provide the needed leadership earlier in his two terms.

The state's current budget crisis should surprise no one. When the Legislature was debating $240 million in tax cuts four years ago, forward-looking state representatives and senators warned there would be dire consequences once the economic good times ended.

Although Graves voiced the same concerns, in the end he conceded to most of what the tax-cut hawks were asking.

Last Friday, Graves fulfilled his constitutional duty by presenting the Legislature with a balanced budget for fiscal year 2003. The budget proposed $438 million in cuts. Budgets for public schools, higher education, transportation, prisons and poor and elderly programs were all slashed.

The $158 decrease in per-pupil aid to local school district in the budget would have meant a $1.3 million reduction in USD 232's current budget. The consequences will be larger classrooms, fewer programs and less technology.

It could be hoped Graves' public disavowal of the no-new-taxes budget he presented Friday is an indication he is not willing to accept a gutted educational system, stripped down highway program and a faltering social-welfare safety net as his legacy.

Unfortunately, Graves produced no alternative last Friday, other than hinting he might support an increase to "sin" taxes on cigarettes and liquor that wouldn't seem to provide much revenue to offset the cuts the governor said he was forced to propose.

It sounded too much like the script Graves has followed the past seven years that, with the exception of the transportation plan passed in 1999, allowed the Legislature to set the state's agenda.

He will have to be much more forceful if is to bring a reluctant Legislature around. It would seem to us, Graves must have a plan when he makes his State of the State address in January. The governor should have a tax increase plan that explains what we will get, or in this case, to keep, for our money and force the Legislature explain how we can do without it.

The lame-duck Graves has little to lose but his self-proclaimed title as education governor.

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