Charles Arlinghaus: Screeching lies does not count as debate
Don't believe anything you read about the New Hampshire budget. It might be a good idea not to believe anything read in any political story. Communications "professionals" on either side of a debate excel only in screeching and grotesque exaggeration. Debate in politics is increasingly composed of two people saying things neither of them believes and no one is expected to take seriously, but which they hope may fool a few activists who already agree with them. Lost in the ridiculous caterwauling is anything vaguely resembling a fact.
If we are to believe political staff, the debate over the state budget is between one group making dishonest claims and an extremist cabal with a secret plan to destroy state government.
As an example, New Hampshire Republicans hailed good economic news last week not by touting their success in the past, but by attacking Democrats "who for months have spread false and dishonest claims about a potential budget shortfall." Those "dishonest claims" were based on the fact that revenues were $41 million behind budget. The dishonest claim was perpetrated by the governor, House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, the Legislative Budget Office and me.
Apparently, while every budget observer in the state was fooled by math, the one guy who wrote this screed saw clearly and knew when no one else did that a fabulous two months were coming, even if it was unexpected by the rest of us. Good thing he remained silent so he could attack us later. Actually, most of us are excused apparently for just being stupid; we aren't included in the accusation of dishonesty, so he must presume we were too stupid to know that the two anomalous months were coming and that lawsuits would be settled at the precise time they were settled. The omniscient release writer only attacks "Democrats" for being dishonest. They apparently are smarter than the rest of us, or it wouldn't be dishonesty would it?
In reality, no one takes anything these people say seriously. Thanks to the Internet, they don't even waste paper in fax machines anymore. Their laughable screeds can be deleted unread.
Speaking of laughable screeds, the Democratic release writers are no better. There's a lot of material here that is fairly predictable, but let me mention the typical budget release, which attacks "Jeb Bradley and his Tea Party Caucus" because they have "devastated essential services for thousands."
You can divide the GOP broadly into conservatives and moderates, with the Tea Party as a subset of conservatives. Yet Jeb is and always has been quite well known as a moderate. Why make such a ridiculous identification? Well, Jeb is perceived as a potential opponent to Sen. Shaheen next year, so they want to confuse people about him and use him as a piñata for everything they don't like. Nothing wrong with that per se, it just makes the average reader wonder about the accuracy of what might come next, and well it should.
The "devastate essential services" charge is easier to peddle because so many people are innumerate. But simple math does refute the charge.
The supposedly horrific 2012 budget estimated revenues correctly (in fact, almost precisely, with two months left to go in the fiscal year). It then spent that amount of money according to the opposite priorities the Democrat release writer says. Compared to the budget six years prior (the budget closest to the same amount as 2012), a 30 percent increase in debt spending (and debt is a decision made by prior Legislatures, which is non-negotiable) left $1.2 billion to be spent by the general fund if revenue estimates were right (and it turns out they were).
The slightly larger half of the budget goes to Health and Human Services. Those human service priorities were actually 4.4 percent higher than in 2006. Whatever differing priorities you and I might have, the services we each consider essential are probably in the HHS half of the budget. The actual spending reductions necessary to balance the budget came from the slightly smaller half of the general fund budget outside of HHS. This "rest-of-the-budget" category was down 11 percent.
That hardly sounds like "balancing the budget on the backs of the needy and disabled." Furthermore, the portion of the HHS budget that goes for mental health and the developmentally disabled (considered the most critical populations in the minds of both political parties) was up by 34 percent. But somehow that gets translated into Republicans hate the disabled and poor people.
Many conservatives and liberals are more than willing to engage in an honest debate about priorities. But generally speaking we are drowned out by the writers of ridiculous screeds who never let reality get in the way of invective.
Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for public policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.