Becoming Arizona

All eyes have been on Washington for the last few days as the U.S. finally took a step toward creating a health care system than any civilized country ought to provide. There is still a long way to go, but at least it’s a start.

While proponents of health care reform cheered, the cause of health care and the protection of children took a huge step backward in Arizona. As the New York Times reported, Arizona has dropped its state Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) to help close a budget gap. The state plans to reduce funding for Medicaid and also is making deep cuts in education.

Ending S-CHIP will mean 47,000 kids will have to find care elsewhere, like the emergency room, when they get sick, or they will have go without. The cuts to Medicaid could leave another 300,000 without health care.

Meanwhile, Arizona always scores well with organizations like the Tax Foundation that promote the idea that the best states are those with the lowest taxes.

Vermont hasn’t sunk quite so low yet, but this recession has exposed an alarming shift in attitude among political leaders who talk about changing the social contract between the government and its citizens. The governor sees 170,000 people on Vermont’s Medicaid rolls and sees a budget problem, not human beings in need of help. And instead of pushing back, legislative leaders amplify the governor’s rhetoric, warning that every program faces cuts and Vermonters need to prepare for pain.

For years, Vermont had a reputation for compassion. Whenever state rankings were published, our income was always lower than the national average, and our per capita spending on social programs was always a bit higher than average. But those fiscal policies served us well, helped to make Vermont the place it is, and we could point with pride to the fact that we were willing to do a little more for fellow citizens. Before we buy into the notion we no longer can afford to be a state that works for everybody, we should ask ourselves if we really can afford to become like Arizona.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on March 24, 2010 at 11:47 am

One Response to “Becoming Arizona”

  1. Thanks, Jack. You are exactly right. Fear and scarcity have eroded our collective commitment to caring for each other. And the relentless messaging of conservatives that Vermont is “bad for business” — even though it’s inaccurate by every measure — has gained enough traction that lots of people believe it. Vermont has been a state with a heart. This meant strong consumer protections, help for people who needed it, a progressive taxation system. All of this made for a place that was in fact excellent for business — the kind of business where pure profit doesn’t trump social good, but rather exists for the sake of all the human beings involved. Thank you for reminding us that when generosity and compassion drive our decision-making, we all benefit.