Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wrong place to count beans

Idaho's governor is allowing his doctrinaire Libertarian obsession for "smaller government" to get in the way of common sense.

Despite a $75 million state budget surplus, Gov. "Butch" Otter wants to cut $1.5 million from family and early childhood programs designed to assist parents in providing a healthful environment for children in their pre-school years. He might even cut another $1 million in federal funds earmarked for state Head Start.

Make note: Otter did not condemn the programs as ineffective, wasteful or irrelevant. His aides cited Otter's obsession with reducing the size and costs of state government, even as fast-growing Idaho's population leaped 13 percent between 2000 and 2006 to a new high of 1,466,465 and as the Hispanic community soared by 36 percent, now representing 9.5 percent of the state's population.

Much of this growth is due to a high birth rate. Many of these children are born into low-income families that are in special need of supervisory programs to give children a decent start.

The cuts Otter suggests are brutal. With the state budget at $2.7 billion, a $1.5 million trim in services represents an almost undetectable .0005 percent savings.

Meanwhile, Gov. Otter has proposed a new 242-bed prison. Penal sociologists long ago concluded that criminal careers often begin when children are deprived of healthful, caring early years.

If Gov. Otter's fixation for stinginess with family programs results in even a few deprived children becoming lifelong criminals, the costs of prosecution and long-term imprisonment would far exceed any "savings" the bean-counting governor fancies. This is the wrong place and wrong time to count beans.

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