The economic crisis is forcing very large budget cuts in government and business. And the challenge for both public and private sectors is to find a way to maintain services while keeping a balanced budget.
That was the premise of a Vermont Business Roundtable discussion that no one really wanted, given the implications for government programs. But there's a growing realization that deficit spending on the federal level -- and the escalating cost of state and local government -- cannot continue indefinitely. The Concord Coalition has been issuing a wake-up call.
The Concord Coalition's director, Robert Bixby, said, "The basic premise of our fiscal wake up tour is that we all agree that the numbers are unsustainable."
Bixby heads the non-partisan group that was founded in 1992 right after a serious recession drove up government deficits.
The Concord Coalition advocates budget discipline. The message is that the choices will be hard. That's because future deficits will be driven by ever-growing entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.
"There aren't any easy solutions," Bixby said, "like cutting waste, fraud and abuse. Obviously we should do that, but we can't assume that's the only thing, or the cuts are going to be of sufficient magnitude to deal with it. There's no miracle growth out there. We're not going to be able to grow our way out of this problem."
Congressman Peter Welch says he's been looking for ways to establish fiscal responsibility in government. So he invited the Concord Coalition to Vermont. Three local experts offered their opinions. Green Mountain Power's chief executive Mary Powell said the reason it will be hard is that it's never been done.
"My view that I've long held before this crisis is that we do not have a sustainable structure for the future," Powell said. "And in fact, we have not really had the impetus as a state to really be forced to work together to talk about how we are going to have a sustainable structure for the future."
David Coates of the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors added, "The only way that we can bring change, the systemic change that we need, requires not only the people of the state of Vermont, but in particular it requires the Legislature and the Governor, the administration. And if they can't do this together, then we're never going to get the kind of change that we need."
Hard words for a difficult situation. The people who will try to find a way out hope that someone is listening.