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Smart Bombs: Show me the money

So the GOP campaign promise to enact $100 billion in federal budget cuts this year is now $61 billion. Meanwhile, the budget deficit is expected to grow to $1.5 trillion this year, thanks largely to the tax-cut extensions approved in December.

Yes, U.S. House leaders are finding that it’s difficult to cut the deficit when the Big Three – Social Security, Medicare and defense – are off the table. What they should also know is that balancing the budget without touching taxes is practically impossible. Similarly, Democrats need to realize that tax increases have their limits, too.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, has imagined what it would take to balance the federal budget by 2014. First, it takes interest payments off the table, because the United States is unlikely to default on its debts. Then it removes Social Security, Medicare and defense and finds that the rest of the budget would have to be cut by 51 percent. This would mean devastating reductions for health clinics, farms, schools, transportation and many other areas. The public wouldn’t stand for it.

On the other hand, the feds would have to bring in 22 percent more revenue from all taxing sources to balance the budget in three years. If Democrats wanted to limit the added tax burden to corporations and households making more than $250,000 annually, they would have to increase their taxes by about 70 percent.

It’s clear that balancing the budget will take a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. If anyone says otherwise, demand the details.

What the Helena? Last December, a Missoula judge had to toss a marijuana case because the court was unable to find enough jurors who thought the tiny amount involved was worth the bother. When a potential juror asked why a prosecution was centered on one-sixteenth of an ounce, District Judge Dusty Deschamps decided to poll the other 27 people in the jury pool and found a similar sentiment.

“I thought, ‘Geez, I don’t know if we can seat a jury,’ ” said Deschamps to the Missoulian, the daily newspaper.

So he called a recess and had the prosecution and the defense work out a plea agreement.

I think this reflects the increasingly mature approach the public is taking when it comes to marijuana. But while the general public might be growing up, many of their leaders are stuck in the past. The Montana House of Representatives voted on Thursday to repeal the state’s 6-year-old medical marijuana law, which was adopted overwhelmingly by a voter initiative. Backers of the repeal say that the law has created “an uncontrolled epidemic.” House Speaker Mike Milburn said, “It’s time to take back the state and its culture.”

However, what’s really happening is the same thing that’s occurring in other states, including Washington, where medical marijuana initiatives have passed. Lawmakers have failed to construct a sensible regulatory structure to match the voters’ wishes, and chaos and hyperbole have filled the void. It doesn’t help that federal laws are informed by Nixon-era paranoia.

Police stories. A Spokane police detective is charged with obstructing a Fish and Wildlife officer after a tense confrontation and is placed on paid administrative leave. A Spokane County deputy sheriff is fired for damaging a confiscated car.

What’s going on here? Could it be the days of cowboy policing are numbered? Sure hope so. I’ve heard there’s a fissure in the Spokane Police Department, with some officers questioning whether their unions need to fight every single battle with administration, regardless of how that looks to the public.

Perhaps that’s what was behind Spokane police Detective Jeff Harvey’s decision to not identify himself as a police officer when he was pulled over by Fish and Wildlife Officer Dave Spurbeck, who was checking on a report of illegal hunting. Spurbeck wrote in his report about the confrontation: “I asked him why he didn’t identify himself as a police officer. He said something like he couldn’t because of the way things were in the department right now.”

Harvey is the vice president of the Spokane Police Guild. It will be interesting to see whether the union takes on this battle.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page.


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