Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Chicken Legislature needs to call special session and solve budget deficit

We’re in serious trouble.

The state’s economy has yet to hit bottom and tax revenues continue to fall while demand for state services and benefits increase with the number of unemployed.

The state is broke and getting broker, having to borrow $600 million from the federal government to pay rising unemployment insurance benefit claims, according to a story Thursday in the Arizona Republic.

Legislators need to get back under the copper dome and fix the budget mess.

Legislators need to get back under the copper dome and fix the budget mess.

So what’s the Legislature’s plan to solve these burgeoning fiscal problems?

Wait until January when the next legislative session convenes (or maybe next month, according to a Republic story Friday.)

That’s ridiculous and cowardly. We need action now.

According to a Joint Legislative Budget Committee report released Thursday the state’s budget deficit for this year has grown to $2 billion.

Nearly 1 in 10 Arizonans are out of work and nearly 1 in 20 are working in jobs that pay them less then they should be earning. The only other states with worse economies than Arizona are California and Michigan.

When Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed part of a budget bill Sept. 4, which the Legislature had submitted Aug. 25 after a two-month special session called specifically to pass a balanced budget, she knocked the budget out of whack by about $1 billion, the JLBC estimated at the time.

But after a six-month regular session bickering over the budget and two more months of a special session, no one in the Legislature wanted to do anything about it.

In less than two months, the budget hole got another $1 billion deeper and by all estimates will keep getting deeper. University of Arizona economist Marshall Vest told the Republic last week the state economy might not bottom out until the middle of next year. And if it does, the climb out of the hole will be long and slow.

The budget deficit for this year could be as much as $3 billion by January with six months still to go in the fiscal year.

Because huge swaths of the state’s budget are protected by voter mandates, the Legislature is left with a Hobson’s Choice to balance it: Make massive cuts to social programs, public safety agencies and public education or raise taxes.

The governor wants a tax increase but anti-tax stalwarts in her own party prevented one from being submitted to voters this year and are likely to continue their staunch opposition if another special session is called.

Democrats are united in their opposition to further cuts to education or social services and while Republicans might talk tough about education spending, they know that if they eviscerate public school funding and force massive teacher layoffs – thereby cramming 40 or 50 kids into a classroom – the backlash will be severe and long-lasting.

So our legislators do nothing.

Hiding under the bed and hoping the big, bad budget will go away is not how you conduct yourself as a public servant.

We’re broke. Our chicken legislators need to go back to Phoenix and solve the problem: drastically cut spending or raise taxes. Or both.

There are no other choices.

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