It is hard to describe this day. It has four main parts. I will try to explain it.
The first was about cutting millions out of budgets for the next six months. Those are the "holdbacks." They take money away from what we budgeted last year for January to June or the second half of "fiscal year 09." I voted "no" on one of them, the one that took huge chunks out of several different parts of our "medicaid" health care and welfare budgets…
The second part of the day was a rally on the temporary statehouse steps where I climbed down through signs and bundled bodies to find hundreds of people with disabilities and their families gathered to protest huge pending cuts to the therapy services many depend on. They are concerned that without support and help that many there would never have had the chance to become as independent as they are. They are concerned that parents will have to ask taxpayers to foot the larger bill to put their kids in expensive homes and institutions; that they won't be able to work and care for their kids; that a traditional day care won't take them or if they do that their children will just be warehoused, not taught skills, independence and self esteem.
One man in a wheel chair who works with kids with developmental disabilities spoke slowly and, in his nervousness, almost incomprehensibly into the hand held microphone. Someone re-read his eloquent speech. In another time he might never have had a chance to use a computer to write that speech. He might have been assumed to have no intellect, no voice.
The third part of the day was where we sat and listened to Mike
Ferguson from the Governor's budget office try to talk our committee down
from the ledge. It seems we on the Revenue Outlook Committee (I sit on this and the budget committee, JFAC) are far less optimistic about the economy than the Governor. Each of us on the committee was supposed to
guess how much in sales and income tax Idahoans will earn and spend and thus pay this year based
on what economists and industry lobbyists themselves are predicting.
My number or revenue estimate was the
smallest. and even the committee "median" or middle number was $101 million
smaller than the Governor's. Again, it was $101 million smaller. This would mean that even the Governor's deep cuts will have to be deepened. We decided to go with the median. That is now what we on JFAC, the Joint Finace and Appropriations Committee, will have to spend as we set budgets this year. Hundreds of millions less than we had last year.
My number was very low. To some extent we discussed it and how low things really might go. I looked at my number and at the very low committee median and thought what another $101 million of shortfall will mean to people all over Idaho. I can only hope I am very wrong, that a year from now we can all laugh at my doom. I have never wanted to be wrong so much in my whole life.
The final part of the day was a meeting with the people from Medicaid. The gate keepers. Someone once called them the bean counters. I don't think the name was chosen by someone who thinks well of counting beans. These men and women have the dreadful job of deciding who gets help with medical care and who does not, how much, at what cost, and what will not be covered and under what circumstances. I suppose if you continually give people like this less money and fewer people to work with at lower and lower wages, what happens is they get a bit cold and hard. They learn to hate the waste and ugliness in things rather than seeing the beauty and the value.
The bean counters have to work with a system of private providers, some of who are in it because they have a passion for improving the lives of people with disabilities. Some are in it because there is money to be made. If i was ever not a fan of privatization, I really am not now. If it does not open up the most vulnerable of our society to exploitation, then at least it makes us fear that everyone providing the services is trying to exploit the system, even if they are not.
It is like the way some of my legislative colleagues have described people with disabilities, or their parents, as being able to do nothing for themselves. In this fourth and final part of the day, one person in the room said that the families who wrote to him, the very same as those families on the steps, expected the state to do everything for them.
As someone who benefited from special education as a child and who worked as a personal care attendant through part of college, I never in my life expected to hear words like those out of the mouth of someone I know and care about.
How hard is it to describe living with a single desire just to be able to do EVERYTHING for yourself. Not to need people to open doors for you, not to have more time on tests, not to need an adaptive device or to be able to afford one and have it always work. How do you describe a family that needs to pay the rent like any other but where for her entire life their daughter can not be left alone. How do you describe how hard people work just to be allowed to hold jobs or finish a sentence just explaining how they feel.