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Budget dreams

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About once a week for about three months now, I've been having this recurring dream. I'm in the Legislative Building, wandering the dim halls like Alice in Wonderland looking for the elusive White Rabbit.

The high ceilings and dark wood paneling make me feel small as I walk the labyrinthine corridors. There's cigar smoke in the air, and some door numbers are missing a digit or two, adding to the surreal atmosphere. I can't seem to figure out where the croquet match is to be held, or if I'm invited to the tea party.

"The General Assembly has cut taxes by $1.4 billion in the last five years," I say to whomever will listen. "Close the unfair corporate tax loopholes, make banks and other huge corporations pay their fair share, and there will be enough money to hire more teachers, expand mental health programs, provide dental care for poor children and offer decent raises to state employees."

"But our constituents don't want us to raise taxes," a legislator replies (I think he's a Republican).

"Closing the loopholes doesn't mean increasing taxes," I argue. "The point is, corporations aren't paying their fair share of taxes in our state."

"Um, er, I'm on my way to committee. I'd be happy to speak with you again, if you'd like to make an appointment."

In these recurring dreams, I hear myself saying the same things over and over again:

"If the state quits subsidizing private colleges, and if you make rich people pay fair taxes on their luxuries," I tell whomever stands still, "you could offer subsidies to people who need help paying for basic necessities."

"But the polls," a legislator whines. "The polls say we mustn't raise taxes."

"Polls? Hmmm. You mean the high-powered corporate lobbyists don't want you to eliminate the unfair tax breaks you've legislated for them. Meanwhile, the state has tens of thousands of adults and children on waiting lists for mental health services."

"Now wait a minute, there. We have this Supreme Court decision that says we can't keep people in institutions. So we have to close those facilities. And besides, we'll be saving money."

I try not to hang my head in despair. "The state already violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by allowing so many people to go without the services they need. Human services is not an area where the state can save money."

"There, there," a representative pats me on the head. "The House has a plan that will save services by raising the sales tax a bit. Trust us."

"Yes, sir, but even if you work things out this year, how will you pay for these programs next year?"

He looks at his watch. "Oh my, I'm late," he says. "How very late indeed."

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