1:01 pm
Mon May 31, 2004

Penny Wise

In a time when we are all looking to streamline our budgets, David takes a financial cue from the North Carolina Legislature.

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Penny Wise

Our leaders must be smart or they wouldn?t be our leaders, right? So I?ve decided to manage my money just like the North Carolina House of Representatives is managing the state budget. What could go wrong?

After a few tough years things are looking up for both of us; North Carolina projects a budget surplus of over two hundred million dollars. Our family isn?t doing that well, but the children haven?t contributed as much since they incorporated their lemonade stand in Bermuda.

You know how, whenever you come into a little money, suddenly everyone wants something. Take the roofer: he?s asking some insane fee just to keep water from tracking into the rafters. In the past I might have paid him, but now that I?m on the North Carolina plan, I told him to take a leap. And have you seen what they charge just to change the oil and rotate your tires? Like I?m ever going to do that! Thanks to my state representatives those grease monkeys aren?t going to play me for a sucker!

And the mechanics are small fry compared to our financial planner. ?Save for retirement! Save for retirement!? Is that all he knows how to say? I?m not retiring now, so why would I save now? And our electric bills are huge! They ought to come down now that I?ve unplugged the freezer and the smoke alarms.

I know what you?re thinking: if I?m looking at a surplus, why would I scrimp? I just feel bad my employer is paying me so much. He?s already richer than me, but really it?s his money, so I?m planning to let him keep more of it.

Of course when I told my wife this plan she looked at me like I was crazy. But then I showed her the example set by our state legislature. Faced with an extra two hundred million bucks the House Subcommittee on Health and Human Services proposed some needed cuts: six million dollars from health care for pregnant women, four and a half million from children on North Carolina Health Choice, and six million from children with developmental disabilities. They?ll save another four point five million dollars by eliminating vision, hearing, and dental coverage for kids on Health Choice and a whopping one hundred thirty one million by canning Medicaid payments for the medically needy. That list, by the way, is far from complete, but you get the idea.

Now I?m no doctor?wait, scratch that, I am a doctor?but I?m thinking we may be sorry if we gut the healthcare budget for poor children and pregnant women. I understand the theory: if we don?t pay for them to get sick, perhaps they won?t. But I think there may be a flaw. Many diseases affect the poor disproportionately: asthma, diabetes, and heart disease for example. Those conditions tend to do better when you get to them early with appropriate therapy. On the other hand, if you ignore them long enough, they do eventually go away, in a sense.

Of course North Carolina is the birthplace of NASCAR and basketball (well, good basketball); we play to win. Just because we?re already above the national average for low birth-weight babies, infant mortality, and child death doesn?t mean we couldn?t do better. Check your rear-view mirror, Mississippi!

On the other hand, it may get harder to lure investors and corporations to a state of toothless, wheezing children who can?t see the blackboard. But with enough corporate tax breaks I?m sure we can get them here. And thanks to the North Carolina House of Representatives I?ve learned a powerful lesson: a penny saved is a penny earned. And, I?ve got a lovely view of that Carolina blue sky through the new hole in my roof.