Serious spending cuts could make Bill Brady a popular, successful governor

A recent news story we linked featured a report about how Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady was pledging to balance the state budget in his first year in office. Couple that with his pledge to not raise taxes – and you get what conservatives like me have been calling for, for many years: grown-up, common sense, fiscally sane spending cuts.

As is almost always the case, some campaign people aren’t exactly courageous trail blazers and instead are fearful of allowing any specifics. No targets, lest the radicals and left wing media go nuts. Regardless of what’s said, you have to cut where the money is. And it’s inescapable that all of the big ticket items have big fat bull’s eyes on them.

Taxpayer funded K-12 and higher ed is one example. Neither has to cost so much and it’s time to trim the blubber. Medicaid, obviously, will be cut. As will taxpayer contributions to state employee pension plans. The state needs to get out of the pension business – and now is a good time to pull the plug.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is, of course, becoming a YouTube star for his forthrightness and unusually strong backbone when it comes to taking on the Garden State’s taxeating interest groups. While his poll numbers are, at times, not the best, his numbers are rising nationally. A more fiscally solvent and economically strong New Jersey will eventually result in wide public support.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels may be terribly confused about morality, but his own brand of fiscal discipline has been recognized and rewarded in a state that went for Obama in 2008.

Recently I saw two popular observers of our nation’s political scene express optimism about the potential popularity of cuts in government spending. Both Michael Barone and Amity Shlaes were interviewed by the Hoover Institute’s Peter Robinson. Barone is a columnist, author, and Fox News contributor. Shlaes is the author of the blockbuster “The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.”

Their comments focus on the federal level cuts, but the principle, I believe, applies perfectly to state-level cuts as well.

First, Amity Shlaes, interviewed back in 2008, was asked about the difficulty of genuinely reforming Social Security – and the charge that no politician “is able to do anything about it.” Here is her response:

“Right, I don’t share your pessimism though, because one I don’t think everyone remembers [the 1930s ‘image’ of Social Security]. The memory is much weaker than it was 10 or 20 years ago, 30 years ago, certainly. So people don’t … they don’t even really know what the New Deal is, they know it sounds good but they don’t know much about it. I think in the newer media, the discussion is much freer, history has changed; we were trapped in this sort of frozen kind of history, petrified history…

Now there’s a whole open discussion about this period, also the urgency of change will be important. Our children are gonna pay lots higher taxes than we paid. We pay a little bit more social taxes than our parents. Something’s gotta give and the period will be revisited. I think only a permanent Katrina [crisis] can make the New Deal vision hold forever, and I know we’re not in a permanent Katrina.”

Michael Barone was interviewed just last month. When asked to comment on what the near future would hold regarding the tussle between supporters and opponents of big government, here is what he said (emphasis added):

“Some Democrats and perhaps some commentators who are not Democrats are saying, ‘Well, look. If the Republicans get in and start cutting things, that will be terribly unpopular.’ I’m inclined to disagree with that, but I don’t feel sure that that’s the case and the Democrats are out attacking Paul Ryan’s Road Map, which is a set of proposals to reduce the growth of entitlements and to get the federal budget into balancing over the long-term of a several decade type period. The Democrats apparently feel that those proposals might prove to be unpopular and a lot of Republicans have been wary…

If I had to bet $1000, I’d bet that the cuts would tend be popular. I look at the UK where cuts are popular. I look at Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana who won re-election in 2008, a state that Barack Obama was carrying with a turnout that was favorable with a lot of young people, black voters newly entering the electorate to vote Democratic. Mitch Daniels won 58 to 40. He got a higher percentage in the state’s most affluent county than Ronald Reagan did in 1984. He carried 25% of votes among blacks and 37% among Latinos. He won young voters 51 to 42 after a four year period of sort of skinflint government.

That says to me, that’s fragmentary evidence perhaps, but evidence that a serious public policy of reducing government expenditure and employment, of changing the delivery of public services in important ways can prove to be popular in effect of, in and among an electorate that was voting that same day for Barack Obama.”

Let’s hear it for the optimists! We can win the battle so let’s keep charging up the political hill. And let’s hope that those who would be our political leaders have courage and the convictions which mirror the principles in our state and national GOP Platforms. On the latter point, that alone would be change we could believe in.

©2010 John Francis Biver