On the latest Facing the Future, I was joined by Concord Coalition National Field Director Phil Smith and Concord volunteer Fiscal Lookouts, Brad Keithley and Bill Greenlaw. We discuss the Fiscal Lookout program, Brad and Bill's grassroots experiences in Alaska and New Jersey and how listeners can make their voices heard and effect change.
[Note: Portions of this week's Facing the Future can be seen in the video clips posted below.]
Smith explained that Concord’s Fiscal Lookouts are volunteers all around the country that help educate their fellow Americans on federal budget policy and the need for it to be sustainable over the long-term. He said that Lookouts do a wide variety of things, like helping members of Congress do town hall meetings, running experiential budget exercises, giving presentations to civic groups and even more behind-the-scenes activities, like writing letters to the editor and organizing outreach to policymakers to encourage action on fiscal challenges.
“The biggest responsibility a Fiscal Lookout has is simply to educate our fellow citizens about these very important issues,” Smith said.
Keithley, a fiscal policy advocate in Alaska, evolved from having a state focus to interest in federal budget policy after the 2017 tax-code overhaul. And he said that policymakers in Alaska have “talked a good game” on financial responsibility in the state budget in recent years, but “we haven’t really practiced what we preach.”
He works to make the nation’s fiscal challenges more relatable to his fellow Alaskans by relating federal budget issues to their state budget and being very active on social media.
“You’ve only got so many characters … so many words you can use, and you try to make it as simple as you can,” Keithley said. “Frankly, I think that’s had a good impact on us sharpening the message.”
And the strongest argument he has found in support of individuals looking beyond their personal policy interests and grappling with the big picture budget challenges is to talk about the negative impacts on future generations.
“The net result is that we’re kicking this problem to our kids,” Keithley said. “Isn’t our job as a generation to leave things at least as well off as they were when we got them, if not better off?”
Greenlaw said his interest in fiscal policy and The Concord Coalition began back in 2000, after reading Concord’s primer on questions to ask candidates for public office. “It was a pretty useful tool for me to engage with them on fiscal questions,” he said. And he appreciated the organization’s nonpartisan approach.
He and Keithley had a similar motivation for addressing the nation’s fiscal challenges. “We need to address those challenges so we leave the country in better shape than the path we’re on right now,” Greenlaw said. “I have three children, they’re all adults now, but I really am concerned about the state of the economy that we are leaving for our children and the huge financial burden that will continue to come about with demographics shifting.”
“There has to be a blended approach,” he added, “where, I think, you look at both the revenue side and spending side and try to balance those things.”
Greenlaw said that what is missing now is that legislation often gets passed without any inclination of how it will be paid for.
On connecting the dots for the public, he said you have to do two things. “You have to ask people what they’re willing to give up if they want to cut taxes, and if they have grand plans, OK, how do we fund that? And you want to make sure that you fund things in a way that doesn’t hurt the very people you’re trying to help.”
Smith said Greenlaw and Keithley are great examples of Fiscal Lookouts and encouraged others to consider joining them. “We have extroverted Lookouts, we have introverted Lookouts,” he said. “We really try to meet the Lookouts where they’re at, with their strengths and their talents.”
In honor of Greenlaw, Concord’s New Jersey Lookout, Smith ended the show with a Sopranos reference and a call to action, “What are you going to do?”
Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL, NHTalkRadio.com (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Music or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.