There's an old trick among the bureaucratic classes, perfected at the federal level and abetted by the media.
It goes like this: The politicians suggest a cut of any size to an agency's budget. That agency then trots out babies and beagle puppies, anything with droopy eyes, to claim the drop in funding will be heartless and cruel.
Baby and beagle lovers flock to the cameras with alarm, wailing that they'll be victims of mean politicians. The politicians back off, and the bureaucrats congratulate themselves with a raise.
There's intense suspicion that this is exactly what played out last week when Georgia's colleges and universities provided the lists of things they'd have to cut to be able to make up for the funding the Legislature was threatening to withhold.
As the final weekend of February drew near, state budget writers told the Board of Regents that they needed to identify $300 million in possible cuts.
The first tip that this wasn't a serious exercise was the fact that the Regents had the equivalent of just one working day to provide the information. Our financial mess didn't appear overnight; certainly the Regents couldn't be expected to list all the expendable items that quickly.
And frankly, if they could list such things that fast, then they're admitting an unprecedented level of bloat.
So Monday rolled around, and institutions of higher education around the state provided their lists. The Medical College of Georgia stayed oddly silent on curbing its expansion to Athens, but quickly offered up a handful of programs that it would sacrifice instead.
Babies and puppies came out of the woodwork. There was no shortage of sympathy for nurse anesthetist students threatened with the loss of all they'd worked for, or Augusta State nursing students who could be kicked to the curb.
Busloads of students from around the state flocked to Atlanta. Signs waved, cameras rolled, tears fell. Lawmakers quickly backpedaled, insisting that they weren't responsible for where the schools cut, only in the suggestion of the overall amount - and even then, that the amount of the proposed cut was just a worse-case-scenario.
Mission accomplished. Rather than asking hard questions about executive compensation and campus expansion, students and worried parents heaped hot coals on the heads of budget-writers for daring to threaten their school programs.
They will probably be able to hang on to those programs, especially the ones tossed out just to get the most sympathy. They'll also likely get higher tuition and added fees, some of which will no doubt reward the higher education bureaucrats, satisfied at their rabble-rousing prowess.
Works every time.
Meanwhile, one of the many areas threatened by the budget cuts has been through this before. But this time it might not survive.
The University of Georgia wants to shut down most Cooperative Extension Service offices around the state and eliminate the 4-H program.
State Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican candidate for governor, said the proposal "reflects poor leadership ... and a lack of understanding of the importance of agriculture in Georgia."
Scott calls himself "a lifelong south Georgia resident who grew up farming," and calls the Extension Service "increasingly important" to a global economy.
Well, probably not so much. But there's little doubt the programs have tremendous support locally and across the state, and it certainly won't hurt Austin with the agricultural vote.
The only question is whether there are still enough of those votes to make a difference in his race.
Thanks for audience
Thanks to the friendly folks at Cedar Ridge Elementary and North Columbia Elementary for inviting Sam and me out for "Read Across America" week.
Sam is my Sam-I-Am doll who always accompanies me as we read Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. It's a lot of fun, and for just a few minutes I get to feel as young as the kids in the crowd.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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