CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With the Republican presidential ticket now set, the national debate about the economy, public spending and the deficit is sure to heat up.
This is a conversation in which all of us must make our opinions known. Why? Because where we spend government dollars is nothing less than the practical application of our values.
Let's start with a look at our nation's finances. In short, while the economy may be improving, we have more tough times and choices ahead. Three recent reports make this clear.
Report one, from the Labor Department, tells us that we are 12 million jobs short of the pre-recession level of employment.
Report two, from the State Budget Crisis Task Force, studied the finances of six large states: California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia. It tells us "The conclusion of the Task Force is unambiguous. The existing trajectory of state spending, taxation, and administrative practices cannot be sustained. The basic problem is not cyclical. It is structural. The time to act is now."
Report three, from the management consulting firm Bain and Company, analyzed the finances of 1,700 public and private non-profit colleges. It tells us that "one third of the institutions have an unsustainable financial path" and another 28 percent are "at risk of slipping into an unsustainable condition."
Unfortunately, these reports reflect our broader financial health. The federal government is unable to deal with the national debt, now at more than $15 trillion. Moody's downgraded 300 municipal bond issuers in the second quarter of 2012, the most in more than a decade. Bankruptcy filings, non-business and business, have risen from under 1 million in 2008 to 1.5 million in 2011.
But all is not doom and gloom. Relative to many other countries, our finances are strong; America's economy has been resilient in the past; and, to a great degree, we control our own destiny. But this control is predicated on a number of factors, one of which is reducing government spending.
This brings us to the tough part: what programs do we want to cut and by how much?
In a recent report, Andy Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, stated that "In my years of polling, there has never been an issue such as the deficit on which there has been such a consensus among the public about its importance -- and such a lack of agreement about acceptable solutions."