Congress (and Montana Legislature) Against the Public Good

Paul Krugman doesn’t get many mentions in outdoors columns, but it is usually worthwhile to pay attention to what he says. .

Krugman is an economist at Princeton University with a long list of credentials, with a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics at the top of the list. He’s also an op-ed columnist for the New York Times and a voice for rational thought. Last week he commented on the House Republicans’ proposals for cutting spending Federal spending. He writes, “Uncharacteristically, they failed to accompany the release with a catchy slogan. So I’d like to propose one: Eat the future.”

Krugman goes on to explain that while many people give lip service to the notion of cutting government expenditures, it turns out, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center, Americans really want more, not less, spending on most things, including education and Medicare. This leads to the Republicans’ dilemma. They promised to deliver $100 million in spending cuts. “Yet the public opposes cuts in programs it likes—and it likes almost everything. What’s a politician to do?”

Krugman says, “The answer, once you think about it, is obvious: sacrifice the future.” That explains proposed cuts in childhood nutrition programs, nuclear non-proliferation activities, and IRS tax enforcement. Krugman points out that one terrorist nuke assembled from former Soviet nuclear materials could ruin your whole day, and then asks, “Why cut $578 million from the IRS enforcement budget? Letting tax cheats run wild doesn’t exactly serve the cause of deficit reduction.”

Yes, eat the future.

The same thing is happening in the Montana legislature, where legislators want to cut funding for education and tobacco-use prevention, to name just a couple areas.

Yes, eat the future.

Back to the national level, and relating to the outdoors, Ducks Unlimited directs attention to proposed $2 billion cuts in conservation programs including cutting $47 million in funding for North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants. These cuts, according to Dale Hall, the head of Ducks Unlimited, “could imperil waterfowl populations and the future of the waterfowl hunting tradition in America.”

Yes. Eat the future.

NAWCA grants, when coupled with private sector matching funds, is the primary source of funding for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan that generated more than $3 billion in habitat projects across North America the last 20 years. NAWCA grants have helped conserve more than 20 million acres of habitat. The proposed cuts will prohibit Clean Water Act protections in important wetlands, and adversely affect funding for Fish & Wildlife Service land acquisitions for waterfowl conservation.

Hall sums it up, “If these cuts and actions take place, waterfowl, waterfowl hunters and wetlands conservation would lose in a big way…these actions would adversely affect all of us who care about, and have funded, wetlands and waterfowl conservation. We should remember conservation in America pays for itself through the economic return from hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts.”

In short, cuts will harm the environment and wildlife now and our children and grandchildren will pay the price in terms of less waterfowl and other wildlife. Eat the future.

While I’m on a rant I have to comment on one of the worst bills in the current session of the Montana Legislature.

House Bill 309, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Wellborn (R-Dillon) is an example of poorly drafted legislation that has the potential to affect anglers all over Montana.

The bill presumably was intended to reverse the Montana Supreme Court decision of last year, which ruled Mitchell Slough was a side channel of the Bitterroot River and thus open to public access. Unfortunately, the bill, as drafted, would essentially define any waterway that gets irrigation return flows as a ditch and thus not open under Montana’s stream access laws.

Montana anglers screamed foul when the bill became known. Nevertheless, the bill sailed right through the House. Angling and other recreationist groups hope to kill or amend the bill in the Senate. Butte’s representatives in the House all voted against the bill, including, to his credit, freshman Republican legislator Max Yates.

Let’s hope that in 2012, citizens remember legislators who support the common good and those who so cheerfully eat the future.