Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Gods We Worship: The Idaho State Budget

If you wish to know the true nature of any organization or institution, study its budget. Impressive mission statements and public relations rhetoric generally espouse noble ideals, but they are often skin-deep and deceptive. Budgets, by contrast, do not lie.

The ways we choose to apportion our hard-earned resources always reveal our real priorities.

By this measure, consider the budget and education reform plans put forth by our governor, legislative leaders and state superintendent of education. These politicians pay lip service to compassion, fairness and the value of learning, but their fiscal and pedagogical policies belie their carefully chosen words.

While we could raise the revenues we need by an equitable tax increase or even temporarily reducing tax exemptions for well-heeled corporate interests, our misguided state leadership chooses to brutally slash services for people with disabilities, and short-change our children by replacing their teachers with computers.

This ugly choice lays the burden of the current recession on the shoulders of our most vulnerable citizens. Our leaders are filling the coffers of the rich and powerful (like out-of-state online education companies) at the expense of struggling, ordinary Idahoans.

Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon.

The prophet Isaiah railed against such unjust, greed-based policies nearly 3,000 years ago. He directed his harshest criticism toward those who presented themselves as paragons of pious virtue even as they oppressed their workers and ignored the plight of the poor in their midst. Indeed, the social ethic of the Hebrew Bible is unsparing in its condemnation of such abuses of power. Torah repeatedly teaches that a society is ultimately judged on the basis of how it treats its most defenseless members. If this is the case, our current leaders are moving Idaho into a state of moral bankruptcy.

The great American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “The gods we worship write their names on our faces, be sure of that. And a man will worship something — have no doubt about that, either. ... That which dominates will determine his life and character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming.”
God forbid what we might become should we follow our governor, state superintendent of education and legislative leaders in worshiping greed and ignorance over community, compassion and wisdom.

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