Advocates of austerity

Not a single figure has officially been submitted yet, but already we can tell that the 2013-14 budget process is looking like no other in recent memory.

No one has a crystal ball, not even editorial writers, but all the signs are there that this is going to be a drawn-out and contentious fight between two economic philosophies. And while this has so far split right down the middle with the political parties on the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), this could well end up as more than Republicans versus Democrats. It’s going to be about those who think the time is now to act like an economic turtle and hide in a shell and those who find that tactic impractical and detrimental.

Tonight the Board of Education is going to see firsthand the immediate impact of the BET passing its guidelines calling for a lower than traditional mill rate increase. Superintendent of Schools William McKersie will submit a new draft of the budget holding to the budget guidelines passed by the BET Republicans in a 7-6 vote that demand no more than a 2% increase in spending, meaning a cut of more than a million dollar to staffing and programs.

We trust Dr. McKersie and the Board of Education to make sure that cut will have as little impact on the classroom as possible, but it’s going to be felt and parents have to make clear how they feel about this. The Republicans are leading the charge to cut budgets and cap spending, but the impact will be bipartisan and the parent groups that have so effectively campaigned in the past for projects like MISA and for classroom improvement and investment in education have always crossed all political lines.

It’s time to stand up for our schools and for the kind of investment that will make this district the envy of others, attracting new families and taxpayers to this town.

The big question is, Why do we now have this sense that we need to cut or else, and what can be done about it? Advocates of austerity point to the slow economic recovery and the town’s growing commitment to its workers’ health care and pension costs. Well, the economic recovery is slow, but it is a recovery nonetheless, with month after month of private sector job growth and a stock market far above what it was at the end of 2008. What’s holding back those job numbers is the sheer number of public jobs that have been lost by spending cuts, something members of the BET seemingly are looking to add to with new layoffs.

And if this is indeed a response to the growing health care costs, perhaps the Republican members of the BET and others in the town government can now join with those who have advocated for a single-payer, universal health care system that would stop leaving municipalities at the mercy of insurance companies that think nothing of jacking up rates to insure another year of record profits. It’s worth noting, once again, as everyone frets about covering health care costs, that a true single-payer system would remove the burden from both local businesses and municipalities like Greenwich. But of course we can’t have single payer in America because of, you know, socialism.

But that’s a bigger issue than just what Greenwich is facing in the coming months. The town needs to make clear what its priorities are. Do the advocates of austerity really represent the will of the people or just a small group that happens to speak the loudest?

If we listen to BET Democrats and merely hold true to traditional levels of spending and taxes, Greenwich’s taxes are still lower than those in neighboring communities. The idea that Greenwich is facing an economic crisis that can be handled only by slashing spending, which will only result in the loss of jobs and a reduction in the service our town justifiably prides itself in, is simply wrong.

This will dominate the beginning of 2013, and the time is now to speak out against it.

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