Human services cuts are a scandal
State legislature continues planning to kill people with human services funding cuts.
August 8, 2003
Guest Viewpoint: Human services cuts are a scandal
By Kathleen Piper
Ihave just returned from seven days of fasting on the steps of the state Capitol in support of funding for human services. During my fast, I placed myself between the solid white marble of the Capitol and an array of cardboard tombstones and cut-outs bearing the names and stories of Oregonians who already have died as a result of our cheeseparing. I talked with the people who went in and out of the building, and I came to view the problem as being deeper than partisan or issue-based politics.
There are those in Salem who do politics - they listen, decide, take sides, create goals, develop strategies, confer, compromise and debate until an agreement is reached that includes some representation of the concerns of all affected. They expect to be accountable to their constituents at elections, and they take seriously the well-being of Oregon.
And then there are others. They include legislators who have tied our state into a budget crisis not only in 2003, but also in years past. They seem to actually have no politics - no interest in representing their constituents' concerns, nor the concerns of the state as a whole. No interest in the provision of effective, or even cost-effective, services. No interest in raising revenue. They fear no election, believing - accurately, it seems, so far - that their well-heeled backers will provide them with sufficient funds for sound-bite re-election campaigns. They say "tax and spend" as if it were a swear word, utterly unconscious of the fact that taxing and spending is the actual fiscal function of the state government.
These legislators have heard the testimony of people who are depressed, unmedicated or suicidal. They have heard from diabetics who are losing their sight and limbs, and from the thousands whose jobs have been eliminated. They know that the mortality rate among severely injured children has risen about 25 percent, not due to lack of facilities to treat them, but because there's no program to admit them into existing facilities.
Faced with these stories, they say things like "Providing these services would require an across-the-board reduction in tax exemptions, such as the mortgage interest exemption. That's how serious it is."
How serious it is? People are expected to die, or become permanently disabled for lack of the medications that allow them to be fully productive citizens, in order to maintain a larger tax exemption on second homes or yachts? How serious is that?
These people state the cost figures in terms of "all Oregonians," thus creating the impression that adequate funding of services will place an intolerable burden on the already overtaxed. Let's not spread the cost across all Oregonians. Let's put it where it belongs: on the corporations and wealthy people who are paying far less than their share.
The nonpoliticians will then plead that new business won't come to Oregon if large businesses are fairly taxed. Excuse me: The idea that tax breaks are the reason any business relocates to Oregon is nothing but a pipe dream. Businesses relocate because they want less costly real estate and better quality of life for their employees. If we won't provide that, we can't pay them enough to come, no matter how much we distort the tax code.
A woman who sat with me for a time works for the governor's office. She told me about businesses that would phone to inquire about Oregon, hear about cuts in education that had reduced the school year, and hang up.
The dead hand of mindless nonpolitical thinking is reaching into our statehouse to gut human services and disable Oregon itself. Cuts in human services - in education, public safety, and health care - are driving business away from Oregon. They are costing us jobs. They are taking productive citizens out of the work force and disabling them. They are blighting the futures of our children and destroying the fragile maintenance of our elderly. They are creating an outright increase in the cost of services themselves, and they are killing people. They are a shame and a scandal to our state.
An inadequate and irresponsible human services budget - cutting everything from Healthy Start to elder care, denying thousands essential medications, and limiting access to the Oregon Health Plan - has passed the House. A different, and better, version could come out of the Senate; but then a compromise must be reached.
We need to hold accountable our legislators, Republican and Democrat, and demand that they do what it takes to build an Oregon with decent services and fair taxation, an Oregon of which we can all be proud.
Kathleen Piper of Eugene has worked for mental health and alcohol and drug services in Texas, California, and Oregon. A vigil in support of human services funding will continue at the Capitol throughout the legislative session.
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