GOP legislative leaders have made their opening offer in the 2008 budget battles. They want to slash hundreds of millions from state programs including education.
Faced with a deficit of roughly $800 million, Gov. Napolitano is proposing financing school construction over the useful life of the buildings (just like a mortgage) to save almost $400 million versus upfront cash financing, taking $300 million from the rainy-day fund, and making up any additional shortfall from operating cost efficiencies and program cuts.
The legislative Budget Committee chairs are having none of it. They want to address all of the shortfall by slashing spending to critical programs and then pile another property tax cut on top of that.
House Budget Chairman Russell Pearce reacted to the Governor’s proposal saying, "I see no cuts, no fixes." It’s as if he can’t imagine fixing the budget any other way except simply cutting the state to the bone.
Senate Budget Chairman Bob Burns admitted that Arizona has a "structural deficit," yet he proposes only spending cuts and further tax cuts to address the issue.
But where exactly do you cut when your per capita tax collections are already among the very lowest in the nation? In 2005, Arizona’s overall tax collections per capita was 45th in the nation. Not much has changed. Where is all the fat to trim when you are already collecting less taxes per person than all but four other states, and most of those have massive resource extraction or gambling revenues keeping personal taxes low, or negligible populations to serve?
Where do GOP leaders want the axe to fall heaviest? On education, of course. Education is the biggest line item in the state budget, so if you want to cut hundreds of millions, you can’t avoid hitting education.
But with Arizona’s educational per capita funding already the very bottom in the nation, they would only further cripple the future of Arizona’s children. They are sacrificing the state’s future, and that of our children, on an ideological altar of tax cuts and irrational hostility to state spending.
GOP legislative leaders want large and permanent cuts in our state universities, undermining our economy and our competitiveness in the national economy. They also wants to suspend new building and land acquisitions for our burgeoning community colleges. Business leaders should be stunned and disgusted, but instead they are cheering the GOP on as they dismantle our future.
The GOP wants eliminate state general assistance to local education as well as eliminate the state property tax levy for equalization funding, making our primary and secondary schools poorer and less equitable, and pushing an even heavier burden on counties and school districts which will have to lean even more upon local property tax revenues. Property taxes are already inspiring Prop-13-style tax revolts in Arizona. But GOP leaders just cite fear of such movements succeeding as reasons to eliminate state equalization levies permanently!
They’ll also slash new programs for teaching math and science, and even punt poor kids off of state health insurance to save a few short-sighted bucks. We know that every dollar spent now on health care for kids saves the state ten or more later on. Instead of investing in our people, he GOP is being penny wise and pound foolish. This isn’t fiscal prudence, it’s simply irresponsible.
The GOP even threw in their pipe-dream of paying for some of the highway patrol’s operating expenses with gasoline taxes, which is not allowed by the Arizona Constitution. So $100 million of their pipe-dream fire-sale budget relies on Arizona’s citizens being willing to change our constitution to allow gasoline taxes to be siphoned off from road improvements and maintenance to general fund expenses.
Not. Going. To. Happen.
Correction: State Rep. Tom Prezelski points out that, in fact, safety and enforcement of highway regs can be funded with the fuel tax. One has to be careful to only use the money for patrol operations and not other DPS functions.
The GOP’s proposed solution to the budget crisis is worse that the problem, and takes advantage of the state’s budget woes to try to lard on $250 million more in property tax cuts. Their ideas are as bankrupt as their budget.
If this is an example of the statesmanship that Tim Bee hopes will carry him into Congress, he had better start to reign in his Chairmen’s overreaching.