Hit me with your best shot!

Today’s Missoulian bags on the Mayor’s budget. Of course, he’s an easy target and I’m sure he can take it.

But, out of a $42.7 million budget, the Missoulian editorial team could only find two small things to trim – $20,000 for a lobbyist in Helena, and a request that City Council members agree to cut their own stipends.

That’s it? Our investigative proudest couldn’t find any other fat to cut? Did they look, or did they just read the press release? Somehow I expected more from the paper of record.

Rather than commenting sagely on the Mayor’s budget, today’s editorial is much more disturbing. It indicates an automatic, unconsidered swipe at the Mayor and his allies on Council. It wouldn’t matter how wise the proposed budget, or how much he cut from it we now know the Missoulian would still criticize it. The Mayor’s administration will never be good enough for the all-seeing, all-knowing editorial board, because there will always be more that could be cut. Government, in their eyes, is always bad and less is always better. I guess now we know the political leanings of our local paper!

Personally, I think we get very good representation from our City Council members and I think they are grossly underpaid for all the hours they dedicate. Like Engen, they are true believers in Missoula and are proud to work on our behalf. Pity that the Missoulian couldn’t applaud their leadership and their financial sacrifice.

Instead, they take a cheap shot. Is that the best you’ve got? C’mon, hit me with something substantial next time, not a partisan hack.

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The race to the bottom

This is how much we are investing in the future leaders of our state:

Proportion of cost of educating students at public research universities covered by State appropriations Average education and related expenses per FTE student
at public research institutions by state, 2006
(Source: The Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability)

The key figures to look at are the ones in black at the end of each bar. See Montana? Students in our proud state contribute 74% of the cost of being educated at our public research universities. That means state appropriations covered a measly 26% of the cost.

Now take a look at some of our neighboring states. Idaho? State appropriations cover 61%. Wyoming? State appropriations cover 73%. Alaska contributes the most, tossing in 76%. Even some of the states in the south like West Virginia (58%), Mississippi (49%), and Alabama (53%) contribute more. Much more.

These figures (from 2006, the latest available) put Montana in the bottom five. Why is that? As a matter of public policy, do we really want our best and brightest paying one of the highest proportions of the cost of their college education? Do we really want them saddled with debt for the prime earning years of their lives?

Consider, then, that the overall average cost of education and related expenses per student in Montana is $8,916 is the lowest in the country. You would have to conclude we are the most efficient university system in the country!

Or, that we are a bunch of cheapskates. Is this what we aspire to?

Republicans dissing public servants

As opined in the Wall Street Journal, all federal worker are apparently out to scam the system! Thomas Frank finds the conservative movement believing that:

The government and its bureaucrats are ever a malign force — jealous, power-hungry and greedy.

Pinch me if I didn’t think he was describing the CEO’s and financial wizards working for the too-big-to-fail banks and other giant multinational corporations!

Sad, though, that it is the Republicans who have for so long starved the bureaucracy of any shred of dignity or respect when it is those very professional upon whom we are now rely to clean up the mess left by the captains of industry! It would seem now would be a good time to cheer them on rather than hoping-and-wishing for their failure.

It should be an honor to work on behalf of the people, to serve a greater good. So many government workers, including many who have previously worked in private industry, take a pay cut when they sign on for federal or state duty. Just like our military servicemen and women, they make a sacrifice in order to protect part of what makes our country great.

Why, then, aren’t we trying to attract our best and brightest into federal, state, and local service? We could be paying top rates, attractive bonuses, and reasonable benefits. Certainly the professional challenges are there, as is the high degree of responsibility and accountability. Anyone who survives the great level of scrutiny and judgment deserves any success they achieve. They also deserve not only our thanks, but the resources and support with which to succeed.

Instead, Republicans seem stuck on the “all government is bad” mantra, thus doing all they can to ensure it fails. As Frank concludes, it is almost as though they only exist to take the blame. How much more of a professional insult could they throw about? Surely, the Grand Old Party has more dignity than that.