Budget season is grinding on the nerves and the patience of Americans everywhere. The staggering figures thrown around on cable news programs and reported in newspapers exist in the unintelligible range of billions and trillions of dollars. Reigning in spending and deficit reduction has been in vogue since the November elections. The prognosis for the problem has been neatly presented to the American people in surgical terms: an aggressive treatment of spending cuts and tax adjustments.

 

What the Washingtonian elites and media blowhards neglect to acknowledge are the actual effects the budget has on the diverse communities that make up the nation. A budget as large as the one used by the federal government truly hides the tangible effects it has on its diverse constituencies. As with the deficit, we tend to spill gallons of ink and create a lot of hot air arguing about a budget that is so abstracted from the people and places it represents that it is merely a figment of our imagination.

 

My hometown of Litchfield, N.H., has just recently experienced its own budget crises, similar to those sweeping through all parts of the United States. The crisis facing my town stems from the loss of $2 million in state funding due to tough decisions and the reworking of funding formulas. While this does not necessarily compare with the incomprehensible numbers thrown around on Capitol Hill, a $2 million reduction in a $20 million operating budget in fiscal year of 2010 is a 10 percent reduction in expenditures to be used on education.

 

With just around 9,000 residents, the lack of money for education and an already small municipal budget isn’t going to make the front page of The New York Times or The Washington Post. The process of balancing a budget where the effects are immediate and visible, however, presents a far greater crisis than the one painted by the faceless and placeless national media outlets. Local governments and school boards provide the most critical daily services to most Americans nationwide. The people that actually constitute a community like the teachers at my high school or the police officers and firemen who ensure our safety in my town will now be affected by these changes in serious ways.

 

Naturally, tough decisions had to be made. The area to best begin cutting spending in is the area of largest spending. For example, 53 percent of the school operating budget is salaries alone; when combined with benefits, nearly 71 percent of the entire budget is spent on public education. The proposed budget presented to the voters on Tuesday, March 8,  called for approximately 31 staff positions to be eliminated district wide. A small school district that serves just over 1500 students in grades K-12 is a substantial cut.

 

In addition to these staff and benefit cuts, other areas like co-curricular activities, adult education and special education have taken substantial hits. Special education lost nearly $400,000 due to the cost of extra staff members incurred. Likewise, with unemployment at 5.8 percent, the complete elimination of night courses for adults will hurt the prospects of many trying to find jobs and restart careers. Even with spending reduction, the city had to propose a 5.08 percent tax increase to help make up the cash shortfall.

 

I don’t mean to bemoan or criticize the areas where cuts are being made. Every job eliminated and every program slashed was required to balance the budget, something that local government, unlike their larger counterparts, must do.

 

My qualm is that major media outlets and nationally elected officials neglect to cover the real effects of this round of budgeting in the content of their debates. The abstract ideas of a national budget and a growing deficit are argued about by pundits who are connected with no place or interest and criticize officials so far removed from the people and places they are bound to. The realistic costs that should be debated are the livelihoods of teachers that receive pink slips and are sent packing.

 

National uproar is focused on nebulous ideas devoid of direct connection with any people or places; mere concepts such as collective bargaining, the deficit, the national debt and other common catch words all lack any real connection to the reality on the home front. True democratic self-governance exists where people make conscious decisions and can see the tangible impact upon everyday life. The emphasis too often ignores and obscures the real impact democratic decisions have on people.

 

Michael Clark is a sophomore in the College and serves as a community member on The Hoya’s Editorial Board.

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