The "fiscal cliff" that faces the federal government and the nation's economy has largely been a Washington-centered debate. It pits Democrats who want higher taxes on the wealthy against Republicans who want to see long-term spending reductions. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are negotiating, to little avail as they face a Jan. 1 deadline. On that date, tax breaks will expire for millions of Americans and cuts in spending will kick in. These cuts will fall disproportionately on the nation's military.
While the fundamental debate is an important one, there is a sub-plot too. Entities all over the country are trying to plan for 2013. The delay of the standoff is completely unfair to them. Federal discretionary spending will be cut an estimated 8.2 percent on Jan. 1. That affects entities such as Southern Plains Educational Cooperative, which serves five school districts in the area. It expects to lose up to $100,000 in funding. Cuts in federal funding will translate into higher state and local burdens, since individual school districts are responsible for ensuring students get the services they require.
Yes, one could argue that because the federal government is bloated, cuts such as these must come. But they could be planned in a sensible fashion over time, say 2 percent per year, rather than one big hit. And the demands on local schools could be eased as well, so that financial burdens are not simply transferred to local taxpayers. In other words, reform should accompany funding cutbacks.
We are less and less hopeful that the president and Congress will reach a deal on the fiscal cliff. While both sides have given, they are quite a ways apart. We suspect middle class tax relief will happen. But the quick, harsh spending cuts are not going to be avoided.