In its budget-cutting efforts, Indiana is considering both shutting down the Indiana Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Board (ITPC), which could save $1.5 million in overhead and administrative costs; and laying off some of the state's 52 meat inspectors, the savings from which would depend on how many were let go. Supporters of both operations have arguments for being left alone, so let's play the game Doug likes to throw this way occasionally: If you found the money in the budget to avoid one of these cuts but not both, which program would you keep intact?
Neither effort would be completely lost with the cuts.
If the ITPC goes away, its work would be assumed by the State Health Department. The department is a logical place for such efforts and it says it can handle them. But others worry that this will be a setback for prevention efforts just when they seem to be paying off -- new numbers show a drop of smokers from 26.1 to 23.1 percent of the population:
Only West Virginia recorded a higher smoking rate since 1999, when rates in Indiana were measured at 26.9 percent. ITPC was created the following year by state lawmakers to help reduce smoking-related health care costs, paid by all Hoosier taxpayers.
"The costs are tremendous to the state," Sabo said, citing a $569 cost per household in money spent on smokers and their care.
If meat inspectors are laid off, remaining inspectors would spend less time with small, independent processors. Those processors could have to go through federal inspection instead of state inspection, but those inspectors are less flexible and accessible, and the process would cost more:
. . .meatpackers say any layoffs will prevent them from growing to meet demand for locally raised meat. And, if state inspectors are scarce or unavailable, small meatpackers who can't afford to upgrade for federal inspections could cut back their operations or go under.
Their fears highlight a dilemma lawmakers in many states face as tax revenues decline and they struggle to balance budgets: How deeply do they cut programs that are essential to growing segments of their economies and could generate new tax revenues?
I think I'd be inclined to keep all the meat inspectors and go ahead with scrapping the ITPC. It's a case of losing jobs vs. "adding to state health costs," and I think the multiplier effect is a bigger deal in the former. Also, the tobacco board is trying to prevent behavior that is purely voluntary. The meat inspectors are ensuring the quality of the products we all use. I know the risks of smoking, and I can choose to indulge or not to indulge. When I'm buying meat, I have no choice but to trust the integrity and competence of the process.