Spending on Social Programs – What Defines Compassion?
In expressing reluctance to cut social programs, some Democrat leaders in the General Assembly have placed such programs in the context of compassion.
In point of fact, Rhode Island spending on all social services in Fiscal Year 2005 was in the top third nationally [we are ranked fifteenth]. Our spending in the category of “Medicaid/Vendor Payments” was the fourth highest. Accordingly, lawmakers would have a good deal of reducing to do before they altogether “eliminat[e] whatever safety net we can provide”, to quote an unduly alarmed Senate President Joseph Montalbano.
It should be noted that from FY2004 to FY2005, Rhode Island spending on social services dropped from eleventh to fifteenth. The General Assembly is to be commended for taking this step in the right direction.
Inasmuch as the operating deficit is now conservatively projected at half a billion dollars and Rhode Island taxes are the seventh highest in the country, the work cannot stop there. Spending reductions must continue across the board. Marc reports that the House Republican Caucus has suggested “5% cuts in the current year for all departments in 20 days” and “10% cuts in the 2009 budget for all departments in the first 10 days”. Another goal for the General Assembly might simply be averageness in all above-average spending categories.
Returning to social spending, setting aside for a moment the question of the benefit of these programs – to the state as a whole as well as to recipients – and focusing on the matter of compassion, two issues arise. What level of spending constitutes compassion? If we were last in that spending category, would we not still be compassionate for offering such programs at all? No, says the poverty industry? How about being in the bottom third instead of the top third?
And secondly, is it possible, is it even appropriate, to discuss compassion – to contemplate compassionate programs – without bringing in the question of feasibility; i.e., affordability?