JONATHAN COHN FEBRUARY 25, 2011
Please indulge me while I share some local news: Rick Snyder, newly elected governor in my home state of Michigan, announced this week that he will call for massive cuts in state spending on education.* Very roughly, it will result in a reduction of about $470 per student.
I know enough about public education, and public education bureaucracies, to believe that school districts could find ways to reduce spending without hurting the quality of education. And, yes, it would probably mean teachers and staff making more concessions on salaries or, more likely, benefits.
But could they find $470 per student that way? I don't think so. On the contrary, I expect that schools--including the ones that my sons attend--would end up with fewer teachers, fewer courses, and fewer extracurricular offerings if the legislature approves Snyder's plan. And my kids would be among the lucky ones. It would be much worse in places like Detroit, where an ongoing funding crisis is about to swell some classes to 60 students. (No, that’s not a misprint.)
Of course, these sorts of things are happening all over the country, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has documented. Because the economy has depressed tax revenues, and because the federal government has stopped providing emergency financial assistance, states are cutting their budgets even though the demand for services remains unusually high. Not only is this bad for the economy; it's bad for the people who depend on services. And it's not just the poor who will notice. If you use public schools, if you need your roads cleared of snow, if you’re waiting for clerks to process permits or assessments, you will feel the impact of these cuts--if you haven't already.
And the situation might get even worse. In Washington, the same Republicans who blocked more assistance to the states are now calling for massive and immediate cuts in discretionary spending. The Republicans, left to their own devices, would eviscerate everything from Pell Grants to environmental protection inspections--although, magically, they'd still find room in the budget for large tax cuts that benefit the wealthy. Most amazing of all, these Republicans seem willing to shut down the government altogether if they can't get their way.
It's an outrageous position. So why isn't there more outrage?
Writing in Politico this week, my former colleague Marin Cogan described a series of town halls she witnessed in Florida. And while she saw plenty of anger over government spending, all of it came from the other side: Conservatives demanding spending cuts. From her descriptions, it sounded like the early stirrings of what we saw in August, 2009, when Tea Party activists started protested health care reform.
I don't want to make too much of those anecdotes: The town halls Marin attended were for newly elected Republican lawmakers and, I gather, the activists they attracted represented a relatively extreme point of view. Even so, where is the push in the other direction? Why aren't liberals showing up at town hall meetings? Why aren't they staging rallies on Capitol Hill? I know the issue is a bit complicated, but, jeez, where's Moveon.org when you need them?
*Note: My wife is a professor at a public university that would lose some funding under Snyder’s plan. I doubt she'll feel much impact from these cuts. But, as you can guess from this item, I think my kids will.
Update: Moveon.org responds to inform me that, yes, they are organizing around this issue. In fact, they were already planning to hold simultaneous rallies in the 50 state capitals on Saturday, both to show solidarity with Wisconsin's public workers and to protest Republican spending cuts.
That's good news. The question now is whether people will show up--and, by the way, whether the media will notice.
Here's the full press release:
Beyond Madison: “Save The American Dream” Rallies
To Take Place In All 50 State Capitals This Saturday
Huge Progressive Coalition Organizing Rallies For Noon Saturday In Every State
Tomorrow, Saturday, February 26th, nationwide rallies will take place in all 50 state capitals to show solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin and protest against the national Republican plan to slash vital services in the federal budget and potentially shutdown the government.
The Republican agenda both in Washington and in state capitals in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio has mobilized progressives in a way not seen since the 2008 elections.
At the rallies, participants will protest the attack on workers’ rights and proposed dangerous budget cuts, and demand an investment in decent jobs. They will also highlight the fact that in Wisconsin, and across the country, Republicans are giving tax breaks to corporations and millionaires while cutting funding for education, police, emergency response, and vital direct services.
The rallies have been put together in less than four days by an unprecedented coalition of progressive organizations, led by MoveOn.org. The groups and prominent individuals supporting this include: MoveOn, Van Jones/ Rebuild the Dream, AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME, USAction/ TrueMajority, Working America, Democracy for America, Jobs with Justice, National People's Action, 1Sky, 350.org, Center for Community Change, ColorOfChange.org, Courage Campaign, CREDO, Common Cause, Keystone Progress, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, People for the American Way, Progressive Majority, Presente.org, United States Student Association, Green for All, American Rights at Work, Apollo Alliance, Working Families Party, Democrats.com, Energy Action Coalition, Media Matters Action Network, Partnership for Working Families, Sierra Club, Campaign for America's Future, Campus Progress, Living Liberally, BlueGreen Alliance, DailyKos, Health Care for America Now, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Progressive Future, Progressive States Network, Brave New Films.