Republican House Minority Leader John Burris is starting to develop a public persona as an out-of-touch politician who makes statements that aren’t aligned with reality.
You may recall a few weeks ago Burris told Talk Business the way to fix Arkansas’ Medicaid budget shortfalls was to get jobs for the people who use the program. Burris apparently didn’t realize that 95% of Arkansas’s Medicaid recipients are kids, the disabled or seniors and need Medicaid to survive.
Now Rep. Burris is leading the Republican charge to arbitrarily cut 3% of certain state agencies’ budgets and it has some law enforcement officials concerned how his cuts will affect their ability to solve crimes.
Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery, who is a Republican, shared his concern with the Baxter Bulletin that Burris’ budget cuts will lead to cuts at the State Crime Lab. Prosecuting Attorney Ron Kincade also voiced similar concerns, saying the Burris budget cuts could make it harder to prosecute various cases.
What was Rep. Burris’s response to these law enforcement officials valid concerns? Here’s what Burris told the Baxter Bulletin:
“What you have is bureaucrats who have hit the panic button.”
Bureaucrats? The people who catch criminals and the people who prosecute criminals are given the pejorative moniker of “bureaucrats” by a politician, which is ironic for a variety of reasons.
It turns out that law enforcement officials’ valid concerns were indeed correct. Because of Burris’s proposed 3% budget cut, 10 forensic scientists would have to be laid off at State Crime Lab if the cuts were implemented. Roby Brock has more information on how Rep. Burris budget cuts would impact various state agencies, according to documents created by the Beebe administration.
Burris has received well-deserved criticism for proposing budget cuts, but not detailing which programs should be specifically cut.
Here is what the Republican Sheriff of Baxter County told the local paper about Burris’s lack of leadership:
Proposing cuts without explaining why they’re necessary or which agency’s budget should be cut is “pure politics,” according to Montgomery.
“That’s politics at its best,” Montgomery said. “’I’m going to pick a magic number — 3 percent — and leave the dirty work of what to actually cut to someone else.’”
As Beebe’s spokesperson said, Burris want’s all the glory for budget cutting, but none of the responsibility.
Burris further cemented his public persona of being an out-of-touch politician when he said the responses from state agency heads in regards to calls for budget cuts were “laughable” and that government could make cuts without reducing services or laying off state employees. Turns out Burris was once again incorrect. It’s simple math, when you cut a state budget, you have to cut either services or lay off people.
Talk Business went through the Beebe documents that detail how the Republican budget cuts would impact various agencies. Here are some highlights of how the Republican cuts would impact state government:
- Reduction in funding for 12 vacant positions at the Department of Education
- Possible reduction in workforce of 39 employees in Department of Human Services administration
- Possible elimination of non-mandatory programs at DHS
- Possible layoffs of 15 firefighters at Forestry Commission
- Not filling 4 currently vacant positions at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission
- Cutting operational costs by 58% at AEDC’s business retention and expansion program
- Reduced advertising budget and operating hours at state parks
- Unspecified reductions in Health Department personnel at county health units
- Reduction in operating expenses in programs at Department of Environmental Quality, but no loss of meeting statutory or regulatory obligations
- 10 forensic scientists laid off at State Crime Lab
- Less funding for Rural Community Grant program
Right now I imagine Beebe, Legislative Democrats and Republicans are holding various meetings to discuss the proposed cuts, but Beebe has made clear that cuts to the Health Department, Forestry Commission, AEDC and Department of Higher Ed are off the table. He’s also voiced concerns about the Medicaid funding shift.
I would never go so far as to say that there is nothing we could cut from the state budget. I am sure there are some reasonable cuts to be made. However, to just pick a 3% budget cut number from the clear blue sky without analyzing how the cuts affects Arkansans is irresponsible leadership.