It’s time to catch up with the Frugals.
You may have heard of them. The Frugals are an extended family, with members in just about every state of the Union. State legislators admire them greatly, and mention them often in their speeches.
The Frugal family is that quintessential American household which, when confronted with hard times, parks itself at the kitchen table (complete with a red-checked tablecloth), tallies up its spending and makes the hard decisions about what to do without.
States, we are told, must act more like “The Frugal Family.” You know what that means: Cut, cut, cut.
In Missouri and Kansas, legislators are up to the task. They’ll whack mental health funding, education budgets, Medicaid limits — whatever it takes to keep up with the Frugals.
But are these parsimonious state legislatures really like the Frugal Family? I think not. Truth be told, they insult the Frugals with the comparison.
Missouri, along with a number of other states, wants to phase out its business franchise tax. Missouri lawmakers also are balking at sensible proposals to rein in state tax credits, which cost the state $521.5 million in fiscal year 2010.
Over in Kansas, lawmakers refuse to even look at the millions of dollars in tax exemptions they parcel out each year.
The Frugals would be aghast.
Forgo income when you’re wondering how to pay the college bills so your brainy kids can have a promising future? Never.
Put off the doctor’s checkup but tell the boarders you’ll phase out their rent because they don’t like paying it? You’re joking.
Give money away to rich people and ignore the needs of your own household? That is not the Frugals’ idea of frugality.
The Frugal Family knows how to pinch pennies, but it also takes the long view. It would never skimp on education or health care because the family elders know that money spent now will pay off later.
The Frugals would not put off essential repairs to the home and car because they know that procrastination will cost them money down the road. If only state lawmakers were as smart about buildings and roads.
The Frugals know that cutting has its limits. When you’re feasting morning, noon and night on Ramen Noodles and the bills are coming due, it’s time to be finding new sources of income. Or, as states would call it, revenue.
The Frugal Family would have someone take an extra job. Or tactfully tell the forgetful uncle who borrowed a tidy sum awhile back that it’s time to pay up.
States have ever so many more options. Take Missouri. Simply by raising its tax on a pack of cigarettes from its lowest-in-the-nation rate of 17 cents to a more reasonable $1.07 a pack — the average of the four largest border states — Missouri could raise about $500 million and close its budget gap.
The Frugals would surely approve, especially because that one move would over time save the state hundreds of millions in health care costs. In fact, all members of the Frugal Family gave up smoking a long time ago. They figured they couldn’t afford it.
Here’s another thing. The Frugals, as you may have guessed, are all hard workers. They would not appreciate attempts in Missouri and elsewhere to make it harder for employees to receive decent pay and defend themselves against discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
Legislators talk out of both sides of their mouths when they uphold their states’ “hard-working families” as symbols of virtue, and then cave into the demands of special interests to undercut workers in every way possible.
State legislatures are nothing like the Frugal Family. They are unworthy to even take a seat at the storied kitchen table.