Judgment of the Nations


Reverend Dustin Bartlett

Judgment of the Nations

by Rev. Dustin Bartlett

Our nation’s budget is a moral document.  It reflects the values of the country.  It demonstrates where our priorities lie.  It tells the story of who we are, and who we want to be.

The budget proposed by the White House this week tells the story of a country that cares very little about science, the environment, diplomacy, the poor, and the elderly.  Between the cuts in our diplomatic corps and foreign aid and the increase in military spending, it’s a budget that seems eager for war.

So we must ask ourselves, “Is this who we want to be?  Is this what our country should look like?”

Do we really want to completely eliminate all government grants for the arts and the humanities?  Have we decided that we no longer value art and literature, music and sculpture?  Shall we cut funding for the educational programming on PBS, and have our kids watch cartoons filled with violence and toilet humor instead?

Speaking of our kids, do we really want to cut all funding for researching and fighting global climate change?  What kind of world are we leaving our children and grandchildren if we abandon all efforts to slow climate change, and eliminate funding to keep our air and water clean?

Have we become so calloused to the plight of the poor and the elderly that we will eliminate funding for Meals on Wheels?  Meals on Wheels!  We’re talking about feeding poor, home-bound senior citizens!  If the budget is a moral document that shows what we, as a nation, care about, then what does this say about us?

And for what purpose are we cutting funding for the arts, and for alleviating poverty, and for health research, for low-income energy assistance and low-income housing?  These cuts are being made to allow us to increase military spending by $54 billion dollars a year.

Never mind that the United States already spends significantly more on its military than any other nation.  In fact, our military budget is bigger than the budgets of the next eight highest-spending countries combined – and of those eight countries, we have formal alliances with six.  We have 19 aircraft carriers; the other countries of the world have a combined total of 12.  Do we really need to be more poised for war than we already are?

As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  This budget is definitely a step away from helping the poor and vulnerable in favor of violence and war.  It’s up to us to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be.

In a democracy, we get to decide.  Our elected leaders are accountable to us.  This is certainly not the kind of country I want the United States of America to be, but maybe most of my fellow citizens want exactly that.

Only, if you do, don’t also tell me you want this to be a country that is built upon Christian values.

In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus describes a scene in which the nations are judged by God, and this is how they will be judged:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.  Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

“Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The White House wants to cut Meals on Wheels.  That’s a reflection of where their morals are.  Jesus said when we feed the hungry, we’re feeding him.  That’s where Christ’s morals are.

Where do our morals lie?  What kind of nation do we want to be?

Why Trump’s ‘Skinny’ Budget is Already Dead

Roy T. Meyers,
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

March 9, 2017

The Trump administration is about to formally lay out its spending priorities for the country in its first budget proposal. The Conversation

Some of the outlines are already out there, signaling a massive increase in military appropriations that will be offset by deep cuts to other discretionary spending, including foreign aid, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Coast Guard. President Donald Trump himself touched on some of these themes in his recent speech before Congress.

But some key Republicans wasted little time before deeming the president’s budget blueprint “dead on arrival,” with Senator Lindsey Graham calling it “politically unrealistic.”

A more apt description, however, might be “dead before arrival.”

Why would that be? Partly because it’s challenging to craft a budget during a transition year. More importantly, however, it’s because Trump’s proposal combines a slap-dash process with heavy-handed non-defense-spending cuts.

How the budget process works

While Congress is ultimately responsible for writing the federal budget – which last year contained about US$4 trillion in spending – the legally mandated proposal provided by the executive branch is essential to getting it done. That’s because Congress does not have the capacity to replace the extensive work done by all the departments when they prepare the president’s annual budget request.

Current law requires that the president send his budget to Congress by the first Monday in February. During transition years, however, that usually gets pushed to April or May because it takes a while for incoming presidents to staff key positions. This delay happens despite the fact that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) includes hundreds of professional examiners who exemplify the practice of “neutral competence” – providing expert analysis to both Democratic and Republican presidents.

In fact, prior to 1990, lame duck presidents submitted their own budget blueprints because Congress required one before Inauguration Day, and their successors either edited it a bit or, in a couple cases, left it as is.

But after the deadline was extended in 1990, the past three presidents have had to hastily assemble their own vision for the country, largely from scratch, in what eventually became known as a “skinny budget,” meaning it skimped on many of the usual details.

Now it’s Trump’s turn to propose a budget for fiscal year 2018, which starts Oct. 1. Trump’s skinny budget, expected to come out around March 16, will be a lot skinnier than usual.

Sneak previews

The announced focus of Trump’s budget will be on discretionary spending, which for fiscal year 2017 is projected to total $1.2 trillion, or about 30 percent of the overall budget (the rest includes Social Security, Medicare and other mandatory spending such as interest payments on the national debt). About half of discretionary spending funds the military, while the rest pays for a wide range of programs from education to environmental protection.

Most notably, Trump reportedly wants to increase defense spending by $54 billion and fully offset that amount by cutting other discretionary programs. According to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney:

“It reduces money that we give to other nations, it reduces duplicative programs, and it eliminates programs that simply don’t work.”

While Mulvaney declined to describe where exactly those cuts would fall, elements of the plan have leaked. Examples include a 69 percent cut to the EPA’s spending on climate change and 78 percent for its environmental justice programs. These cuts are designed, it seems clear, to reduce the ability of the government to regulate business groups that have supported the Republican Party.

But some cuts are already meeting strong resistance. Even Trump’s hand-picked Environmental Protection Agency director, Scott Pruitt – who as Oklahoma attorney general repeatedly sued the agency he now runs – has voiced opposition to the reduced EPA spending.

A closer look at the process of how these plans were reached reveals a significant flaw and the reason this budget will not be acceptable to Congress.

A top-down process

The process of creating a spending blueprint typically begins during “budget season” – October through December – when government agencies submit their wish lists to the OMB, which then compares requests with the president’s desired policies and edits them as necessary.

That didn’t happen during this transition, because the Obama administration – as sometimes happens when there’s a change in government – asked departments only to submit estimates of continuing current policies rather than the usual full requests that would have been reviewed by the outgoing government. That gave Trump’s team a slow start, which was made worse by the transition’s delays in identifying key political appointees.

Yet the overall direction of the budget was still set at the top by the president. OMB Director Mulvaney summed up how this budget was prepared this way:

“We are taking his words and turning them into policies and dollars.”

In reality, however, as is clear from a reading of what is proposed, Mulvaney has relied on conservative advocacy organizations such as the Heritage Foundation to identify many of those specific “policies and dollars.”

That groups affiliated with the incoming president have such influence is nothing new. What is different this time is that their proposals did not receive much of a vetting.

In the typical process, the budget requests that have been trimmed by OMB analysts are sent back as “passbacks” to originating departments for potential appeal, giving them a chance to explain why certain spending or programs are necessary. But when Mulvaney revealed the outline of his budget, he made the remarkable admission that the OMB had not yet delivered its passbacks to the departments – less than three weeks before the budget would be released.

The bottom line is that the White House publicized a target of $54 billion (11 percent of 2017 discretionary spending) in cuts without receiving any feedback from agencies about the feasibility of making them. Further, because the administration and Congress have also already called for increases in spending in certain areas – such as veterans health programs, doubling the number of border patrol agents and infrastructure investments – that means the $54 billion hammer will fall even harder on everything else.

Hence the negative reaction from Congress, which understands how politically popular many of the programs targeted for cuts are. Some previous proposals to impose similar cuts were defeated, such as in the successful campaign to “save Big Bird.”

After all, non-defense appropriations have already been cut greatly since 2010, when they tallied an inflation-adjusted $612 billion. Spending caps adopted in 2010 placed a ceiling of $516 billion for such spending. Trump’s budget would drop it further to $462 billion.

So even though Trump’s skinny budget will propose big cuts – and some will be adopted – Congress will not rubber-stamp many of them.

And oddly, there was no reason to rush in the first place.

The government is currently running on a continuing resolution for fiscal year 2017 after Republicans decided not to pass regular appropriations bills – which were supposed to be enacted by last October – until after President Trump took office. That continuing resolution expires on April 28.

So Congress will need to pass 2017 appropriation bills before it can even look at the 2018 budget. Clearly the administration could have taken its time before releasing its proposal.

Budgets are complicated too

In other words, the lack of substance combined with politically toxic spending cuts mean Trump’s first budget blueprint stands little chance of full adoption.

Over the rest of the year, if Republicans are to enact a full budget for 2018, there will have to be a meeting of the minds between Congressional Republicans and President Trump – which currently seem very far apart on key issues.

Most Republicans tend to advocate for a balanced budget and debt reduction. In contrast, the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated before the election that adopting all of Trump’s campaign promises – including tax cuts, the “wall” and infrastructure spending – would increase the public debt to 105 percent of GDP from 86 percent today. And that’s in part because he’s also promised not to touch entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.

There are also large differences between Trump and Republican lawmakers on how to change the tax code, how to replace the Affordable Care Act and whether to subsidize corporations for creating jobs.

To date, Trump has not shown much facility to resolve these budgetary conflicts – or in the realization that some subjects, like this and health care, are in fact very complicated. And so in the absence of presidential leadership that wrestles with the complexities of government, don’t expect his skinny budget to provide a consistent vision for the nation – or to have a future.

Roy T. Meyers, Professor of Political Science and Affiliate Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

South Dakota Ends 2016 Fiscal Year With Another Surplus

South Dakota Ends Fiscal Year With Another Surplus

PIERRE, S.D. –  South Dakota state government closed the 2016 budget year on June 30 marking the fifth consecutive year with a surplus, Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced today. The state general fund budget for Fiscal Year 2016 ended with both lower expenditures and higher revenues than budgeted. 

The majority of the surplus was a result of state agencies demonstrating fiscal restraint.  State agencies spent $10.4 million, or 0.74 percent, less than appropriated. Additionally, revenue for Fiscal Year 2016 exceeded estimates adopted by the Legislature last March by $3.6 million, or 0.24 percent. In total, the state’s budget for Fiscal Year 2016 ended with  a $14.1 million surplus.

“This marks the fifth year in a row that we have maintained structural balance in our budget. This was my number one priority when I took office,” Gov. Daugaard said. “Even with our revenue stream being soft the past few months, all areas of state government were able to spend fewer tax dollars than appropriated to contribute to the budget surplus. Finishing Fiscal Year 2016 in the black puts South Dakota’s budget in a positive position as we begin the 2017 fiscal year.”

State agencies again remained within their appropriated budgets in FY2016. Collectively, the three branches of state government spent $10,427,398 less than appropriated. This reversion includes $2.4 million across all state government due to a decrease in the state paid health insurance rate; $2 million from the Board of Regents due to lower utility expenditures; $1.3 million from the Department of Human Services related to lower than anticipated operating expenditures and vacancies at the South Dakota Develomental Center; and $1 million from the Department of Social Services due to nominal variances in the utilization of services.

South Dakota’s sales and use tax receipts, the state’s largest revenue source, finished the fiscal year 0.71 percent below budgeted levels, but grew 2.91 percent compared to the prior year. Collections from the sales and use tax accounted for 58 percent of total general fund receipts in fiscal year 2016.

Sources of revenue with notable increases came from the bank franchise tax, severance taxes and insurance company tax, which grew 22.4 percent, 13.6 percent and 6 percent, respectively, over FY2015. Ongoing receipts to the general fund totaled $1,438,386,820 which grew 4.1 percent compared to the previous year. Total state general fund receipts were $1,496,940,642 for the recently ended fiscal year. 

South Dakota state government ended FY2016 by transferring $14.1 million to the Budget Reserve Fund, as required by law. The state’s Budget Reserve Fund now has a $113,379,805  balance and the General Revenue Replacement Fund has a $44,000,048 balance.

The combination of those two funds, totaling $157,379,853, represents a combined reserve of 10.8 percent of total general fund spending for FY2016.