Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Broken State Budgets: It's The Inequality Stupid!

Here in New York the state legislature managed to close a $17 billion dollar budget gap for this year. California is still working on a budgetary mess that makes NY's situation look easy. Most states around the country have had to skimp on programs and raise taxes due to this difficult economy, but there is one overarching reason why this is happening....and it boils down to the battle between the rich and the poor.

From Too Much Online:

Over recent decades, with more and more income and wealth concentrating at the top, those uninterested in public services have had the resources to do more than grumble about taxes. They’ve been able to bankroll campaign after campaign, in state after state, to roll taxes back.

Growing inequality has helped these campaigns succeed. With the economy’s rewards flowing to the top, and essentially the top alone, Americans in the middle have found their wages and salaries stagnating, even sinking. Tax cuts, for many in the middle, have come to seem the only way to make ends meet.

These tax cuts, once in place, start states on a nasty downward cycle. Tax cuts mean less state revenue. The lower the revenue, the fewer the dollars available for maintaining quality public services. The lower the quality, the greater the number of people who find themselves actively considering private service alternatives.

Soon the modestly affluent, not just the rich, feel better off going life on their own nickel — better off joining a private country club, better off sending their kids to private school, better off living in a privately guarded gated development.

The greater the number of affluent people who forsake public services, the more inevitable still more service cutbacks become — even in “good” economic times, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute noted last year in Pulling Apart, a detailed look at growing state-level inequality.

It is pretty straight-forward and makes perfect sense, yet legislators, fueled by the wealthy few that influence them, have stripped their states of protection and assistance for the least amongst us. Not only does that arrogance leave the poor to fend for themselves, it ultimately comes around to bite everyone, save for those that have enough money to detach from the community that helped build their wealth in the first place.