The front-page headline in this morning’s print edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel was that a 30% reduction in federal funds to the State of Tennessee would result in the layoffs of 5,131 State employees. We were also reminded that a whopping 40% of the State budget comes from federal funding. The estimates were part of a “worst-case scenario” projection that Governor Bill Haslam asked his executive departments to simulate if the feds cut their involvement in State funding as drastically as they could considering the federal debt and deficit crises.
Whenever State cuts are discussed, we always hear-as we did in this case-about the supposedly inevitable cuts that “must” happen to departments like the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which helps look after citizens with intellectual disabilities. Of course, these folks are truly among society’s most vulnerable and needy, because unlike so many others who have become dependent on government, many of these people truly cannot do for themselves in the way that the rest of society can without public help, and cannot care for themselves without assistance-yet DIDD is always among the first and deepest cuts we hear about when these kinds of scenarios are discussed. Other departments and programs (and the people who work in them) just think themselves important, but we don’t truly need most of those other programs, we’ve just become accustomed to them.
What the Governor’s little exercise has shown us is that our State government has become entirely too dependent on Washington for its day-to-day operation, and it is time for us to begin to wean ourselves from the federal teet. Education is actually a constitutional responsibility of State government, but that isn’t so with the federal government, so we should begin localizing education and give parents and communities maximum power over their kids. The State needs to look at departments where cuts in staff can be made without disrupting necessary State services. Does it really take that many bureaucrats to screw in a lightbulb?
The University of Tennessee is apparently concerned that cuts in federal funding would mean a loss of research dollars. Perhaps UT is too dependent on federal research money to begin with. President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in his farewell address that academic institutions would soon become entirely too dependent on federal money to fund their research projects, and that this would actually harm individual innovation and private creativity, and create an academic and government oligarchy with a monopoly on scientific and social research. Ike had an amazing crystal ball, because that is exactly what has happened-and it is costing us dearly. Academic research is very important, but much more of it needs to be privately funded, because that would encourage even greater innovation and cost the taxpayers far less money. The University of Tennessee was first founded to educate the people of this State, after all, and that should be its first, fundamental, and most obvious mission.
We must get back to asking government to do those things which we cannot do for ourselves, not asking it to give us the things that would simply make life easier or provide us comfort.