Arizona Legislature succeeds in “Out-Congressing” Congress

By Nancy Barto | August 13, 2008

nancybartoTracking actions Congress often takes when addressing revenue shortfalls, the Arizona legislature approved some of the worst budget policies in state history. We are in an economic drought that, by all accounts will rebound in time, but for now impacts this and next year’s state revenues by a short-fall of $2 billion.

Responsible individuals facing a similar financial situation would usually react in several ways: tap savings, take on extra work to increase their incomes and make significant, if not permanent, changes to their spending habits before borrowing to cover day-to-day living expenses. They know they cannot survive on a credit card without serious consequences.

Communities throughout Arizona are cutting their budgets by trimming programs and freezing new hires. Even the city of Phoenix announced tough 10 percent across-the-board cuts without affecting public safety. Many other states recognized that spending needs drastic curtailment: New Jersey made nearly $1 billion in cuts with a Democrat governor and called for no growth in total spending for 2009, a rarity in state budgeting. Florida cut $1 billion during a special session last fall to plug a short-fall in its current budget, and Nevada imposed a 4.5 percent across the board cut for all agency budgets and is looking at another one for 2009.

Arizona? The state legislature did what Congress all too often does. It approved massive new spending programs, leaving agency spending, including formula growth, virtually untouched at only 3 percent overall reductions. Decisions to paper over, borrow excessively and shift responsibilities onto struggling municipalities exemplify the will of big government-minded legislators whose solutions revolve around more government involvement but deny the failures and limitations of bloated government programs. Further, because so much of this year’s “solutions” merely delay current continued spending plus much more spending, it sets the stage for future regressive tax increase schemes, suppressing future revenues in the long term and often generates impractical band-aid solutions like the Sky Harbor slot machines idea, floated and, thankfully, rejected. Shades of things to come.

This is not a time for business as usual in Arizona. Changes affecting a variety of important issues including, but not exclusive of, personal and corporate tax reform, are critically important. Because Arizona competes globally and competition will continue to increase, a non-competitive tax environment limits Arizona’s present and future economic health. Nationally, we have one of the highest corporate income tax rates in the world – including Western Europe and China! Arizona’s should be lowered by at least 2 percentage points to keep and attract jobs.

Fixing health care can also become a reality by addressing the tax inequities preventing individuals and families from obtaining excellent, portable and affordable insurance. Consumers rather than insurance companies can and should direct their health care decisions and their dollars. Aside from adequate funding, an excellent public education system depends largely on whether we remain committed to strengthening, not diluting, academic standards and increasing parents’ opportunities to choose the best education for their children – be it a home school, private, public or virtual environment. Bills aimed at addressing these critical issues were introduced. But apart from significant CPS, human smuggling and employer sanctions legislation and the large-lot residential property tax reforms this year, on most issues the status quo was enshrined.

Unfortunately, responsible Republican legislators in the majority facing entrenched minority party opposition and defection of a few of its own party, were unable to marshal the votes needed to effect the tough financial solutions that individual families, communities and other states have recognized as imperative during periods of economic downturn.

This election, once again we have a choice. Your informed vote can bring real reforms – rather than the continued “not enough funding” drumbeat. Candidates promoting failed government monopolies and new taxes to support them deserve to be shown the door.