I was strolling through Super Save the other day when I passed by the meat counter. There were some very nice steaks sitting there, begging for me to pick them up and take them home. Under normal circumstances, I would have. However, in this scenario, the family pocketbook would not allow me the indulgence.

My fiscal won out over my physical.

As I left the store, vowing to return in a couple of days, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people — families, young people, students and even businesses — make decisions like that every day. They prioritize their pocketbooks each and every day. 

If they can do it, why can’t our government?

There’s no question I’ll be back for those steaks, but first things first. My mortgage company needs to be paid. So does the electric company, the insurance people, the cable company … well, you get the picture. If I have anything left, those steaks are mine.

Every working person has their own set of spending priorities. They pretty much follow the basic hierarchy of needs (well, most do), but their discretionary spending is pretty varied. Some people have vices, like cigarettes, fishing lures or art supplies that consume their disposable income. Others can’t function without a weekly trip to the movies or cocktails at the club. Regardless of how they dispose of their income, the overwhelming majority of working people pay their bills first.

Government doesn’t do it that way. Government spends what it brings in, and in the case of the federal government, keeps spending. If the U.S. government had strolled by those steaks, they would have bought them, charged them to a credit card, and paid 30 percent interest on them over the next 30 years. What started as a reasonable price for a quality steak would have become the Department of Education.

The spectacle of government spending is so vast, it’s hard to grasp how deeply entrenched we are in it. Government has become very good at disguising how it spends, using words like grant, assistance, reimbursement and deduction. It’s hard to fathom how dependent we’ve become on government. Every time a rural fire department gets a grant for a new fire truck, or a housing authority is awarded funds to winterize homes, it’s government spending.

The 2010 governor’s race between Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic nominee Bill White figures to be one of the closest in several years in Texas. Why? Because Texas has $10 billion less to spend next year than it does this year. Deficit? No, not a deficit … just $10 billion less. When the economy gets tough, people spend less and the state collects less in sales tax revenue. When property sells for less, values decrease and less taxes are paid to the state. It’s a simply formula, really.

State services have to be trimmed by $10 billion next year. That means education, which is 60 percent of the state budget, highways, corrections and even public safety. Revenues must equal expenditures in Texas, like they do in 37 other states. Given that, there are two options for state government: Raise money in the form of taxes and fees, or cut spending.

The same goes for local governments. If there is no revenue, there can be no service. We can squabble over tax rates from now until the end of time. The facts are the same at the local level as they are in Austin … a balanced budget is mandatory.

It will be fun to see how they package this election cycle. It’s easy to be a critic when you don’t have to make the tough decisions. Nobody wants higher taxes, and nobody wants government services to be trimmed. Yet, something has to give. 

My pocketbook told me to hold off on those steaks for now. What I spent last week on food has no bearing on what I spend today. Revenues and outlays have to balance in my household. With that mandate in place, it’s up to me to prioritize who gets paid first, and who doesn’t get paid at all this month.

I turned off the heat about a month ago and have yet to turn on the air conditioning at home. If I play my cards right, Tri-County will get a much smaller check from me this month and I’ll be back at Super Save before you know it.

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