Arizona budget – no one knows what goes on behind closed doors

Musical accompaniment to this post from the “silver fox,” Charlie Rich – “Behind Closed Doors”.

BehindClosedDoorsArizona, unlike a number of other states, does not have a transparent budget process. The governor proposes a budget in January, the leadership of the House and Senate each put together a list of demands of what they want in the budget, and then they all disappear behind closed doors for weeks, even months at a time secretly negotiating — not even informing members of their own caucus, let alone the minority caucus, of what is going on — before emerging from behind closed doors with a “stealth” budget that is then fast-tracked for a vote in each chamber. There are no open committee hearings with advance public notice and public testimony on the state budget.

For the life of me I cannot understand why the citizens of Arizona tolerate this secretive and undemocratic method of budgeting. Oh sure, the Senate Finance Committee and House Appropriations Committee will object to this characterization. “We do hold public hearings on the several appropriations bills in open committee.” But those appropriations bills are just legislative vehicles to plug in the numbers later agreed to in secret by the governor and legislative leaders. These numbers are not the result of public testimony in open committee hearings.

Which brings us to the “stealth” budget agreement allegedly reached between Governor Doug Ducey and GOP Legislative leaders. It is way worse than the budget initially proposed by Dicey Doug Ducey in January.

The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports, Details emerge in budget deal between Ducey, GOP leaders:

Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican leadership in the House and Senate have reached an agreement on the budget that makes deep cuts to state universities, although whether that budget can win the votes it needs to reach the governor is still unclear.

House and Senate GOP leadership both held several rounds of meetings with small groups of Republican lawmakers Tuesday evening, attempting to lock up votes for their negotiated budget.

The alternative budget would slightly increase total spending over the governor’s proposal, while cutting Ducey’s revenues and maintaining a structural imbalance for a year longer that Ducey previously said he would tolerate.

“We’ve got a budget deal. We’re excited about where we are. This has been a tough process. The focus has been to balance a budget. It’s been to protect the most vulnerable. We think we have a budget that reflects the values of Arizonans,” Ducey said.

The proposal would deepen Ducey’s proposed cuts to higher education, with universities facing a $104 million cut, instead of Ducey’s proposed $75 million, according to documents obtained by Arizona Capitol Times.

Cuts to three community college systems would double from Ducey’s proposed $8.8 million to a $17.6 million cut, completely eliminating state funding for Maricopa, Pima and Pinal county community colleges.

The budget would reduce Ducey’s proposed $96 million cut to public school formula funding to only $5 million. It also calls for eliminating district-sponsored charter schools, an issue that was a major point of contention in the current year’s budget.

The budget would also cut $10 million to eliminate the small-school weight for multi-site charter schools. It would also eliminate $18 million in Ducey’s proposal to cap the homeowners’ tax rebate at 44 percent.

The newly created Department of Child Services would see $9 million less than Ducey’s proposal.

The proposal would decrease Ducey’s proposed funding to build 3,000 new private prison beds to cover only 2,000 beds, and postpone the funding altogether until next year. It would also allow county sheriffs to bid on housing the prisoners themselves.

It would also cut $130 million in revenue from Ducey’s budget overall – not including the lost revenue from Ducey’s scrapped proposal to increase the vehicle registration fee to cover funding to the Highway Patrol.

The state would end the year with a structural deficit of $241 million – about 30 percent higher than Ducey’s proposal – and the deficit would carry into fiscal year 2017, something Ducey expressly said he wanted to avoid.

House Speaker David Gowan said that he is still shopping the budget to Republican lawmakers in hopes of rounding up votes.

* * *

Democrats are already calling the new proposal worse than the governor’s original proposal, citing the increased cuts to higher education and a “shell game” being played with K-12 education funding.

“The budget just got worse,” House Assistant Minority Leader Bruce Wheeler of Tucson said.

Wheeler and other Democrats said that, in talking to their GOP counterparts in the House and Senate, it is clear Republican leadership doesn’t have the votes necessary to pass a budget, although that could change. The main hang-up among GOP lawmakers are the cuts to higher education, as a bloc of Republicans were already pushing back against Ducey’s lower cuts.

* * *

House Minority Leader Eric Meyer said that, although K-12 appears to get an increase in the negotiated budget, at the end of the day, a lot of money is shifted around and school districts won’t actually see a per-pupil funding increase.

“There’s not an increase. The reality is on a per-pupil basis, there’s not an increase,” Meyer said.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Yarbrough of Chandler said the Legislature may work through Saturday to finish the budget this week “if that’s what it takes.”

The GOP is playing a shell game with K-12 education funding; notice that the court ordered $317 million judgment for restitution in the current budget year is not allocated in this budget, nor is there any breathing room for the more than $1 billion in restitution for previous legislative theft from the school districts that the court may order in the near future.

The draconian cuts to higher education have increased from $75 million to $104 million for the states universities, and it completely eliminates funding for community colleges in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties. What that means to you is your local property taxes will have to go up to keep the doors open and the lights on at your community colleges. The state is unloading this tax burden to the counties.

The budget cuts $130 million in revenue with various tax cuts and tax credits for special interests, at a time when the state is facing an estimated $1.5 billion deficit next year — and this does not include the potential education judgment for restitution, nor the devastating consequences if the legislature wins its lawsuit against Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid (AHCCCS) expansion, or the U.S. Supreme Court undermines the Affordable Care Act and causes economic chaos to state budgets.

Finally, the budget is not truly “balanced,” as required by the Arizona Constitution. The state purportedly would end the year with a structural deficit of $241 million.

All of this is because our lawless Tea-Publican Governor and legislature refuse to comply with their constitutional duty to raise taxes to cover the deficit under the Arizona Constitution, Article 9, Section 4: “Whenever the expenses of any fiscal year shall exceed the income, the legislature may provide for levying a tax for the ensuing fiscal year sufficient, with other sources of income, to pay the deficiency, as well as the estimated expenses of the ensuing fiscal year;” and to raise taxes to pay for public education under the Arizona Constitution Article 11, Section 10: “In addition to such income the legislature shall make such appropriations, to be met by taxation, as shall insure the proper maintenance of all state educational institutions, and shall make such special appropriations as shall provide for their development and improvement.”

These guys are not serious about good government, compliance with the law, and serving the best interests of the public. They are all derelict in their constitutional duty, and are guilty of legislative malpractice, if not misfeasance in office.

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5 thoughts on “Arizona budget – no one knows what goes on behind closed doors”

  1. Dear Mr. Meanie,
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  2. Most Career and Technical teachers in high schools would be laid off, as State money would be cut off to fund them.

  3. This budget proposal would devastate regional JTED districts, because it only funds those large JTEDs with large central campuses, or their own buildings. All the non metro JTEDs are funded thru satellite programs, the most efficient method, meaning they are funding programs in local high schools for career and technical education. This would essentially destroy JTEDs in Cochise, Yuma, Mohave, Coconino, Navajo, Apache, Gila, LaPaz, and Yavapai Counties. Even in the largest JTEDs like Pima have most of their CTE programs in local high schools.

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