Lawmakers love to talk about hard choices. But as states have tried to bridge at least $100 billion in budget gaps, politicians are making choices of a different variety: dumb ones. California furloughed thousands of tax collectors, although they would have earned the state an estimated seven times what they cost. New Jersey (along with at least six other states) canceled funds to help people quit smoking, though tobacco-related illnesses already cost the state an estimated $4.7 billion. And Kentucky even shuttered its Long-Term Policy Research Center, foreclosing a mission to “report on trends affecting the state’s future.”
Politicians often see no benefit in long-term solutions, of course, when elections are a short-term affair. But if they’re ever to address the fiscal crisis, they’ll have to make a real choice—between their own futures and that of their states.