Cuts to funding for fairs is unfortunate, but necessary

The governor's proposal to reduce funding for programs and prizes makes sense, given the economic situation.

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The Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days is a wonderful annual event that's more than a community celebration. The Walla Walla Fair is an opportunity for people, kids in particular, to stay connected to the region's agricultural heritage.

So it is extremely unfortunate that 70 fairs across Washington - including the Walla Walla and Columbia County fairs - could be losing a substantial amount of their state funding.

As Washington faces a $5 billion revenue shortfall heading into the next two-year budget cycle, Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed a 60 percent reduction - from $2 million to $800,000 - in this year's budget for exhibitor programs and prizes. And the governor proposes reducing the funding even lower, to $500,000 a year, in the two-year budget that runs through 2013.

That means a $56,000 hit to the Walla Walla Fair budget this year. Half of the state funds are used for premiums paid to youths involved in 4-H and FFA programs. The other half is used to run programs for young exhibitors.

While we believe this dramatic cut is unfortunate, it is also necessary.

The Great Recession has reduced the tax revenue collected, creating a fiscal crisis. Gregoire and the Legislature have no choice but to reduce spending throughout state government.

Health insurance and medical services for the needy - once thought of as untouchable - are being reduced or even eliminated.

Education is being hit hard by cuts and so is law enforcement.

Fair premiums are nice, but they are not basic needs.

Still, we would hope these youth programs survive here and across the state. While the $20 or so that kids might get for their fair entry is rewarding, it's not or, at least, shouldn't be the only reason children participate in the fair. Raising animals and creating an exhibit is a reward in itself.

Perhaps the fiscal crisis can be turned into a learning opportunity. It can make clear that state government has to reduce spending because, unlike the federal government, that budget has to be balanced every year. Spending cannot exceed income.

In this case, that means the premium program will be dramatically reduced over the next few years. Winning a ribbon might have to be satisfaction enough until the economy is back on track and tax collections improve.

We hope that when the economy improves, and it will, the excellent programs at these local fairs will be fully restored.

Until then, however, this reduction in state funding is necessary.

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