Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Failure is not an option for Legislature and state fiscal crisis

Monday is the first day of perhaps the most important legislative session in state history.

The state’s budget has been out of balance for more than two years. The bag of one-time budget balancing tricks is empty. Mandated spending increases have mitigated or made moot billions of dollars of budget cuts and funding sweeps enacted in the last two legislative sessions.

Arizona is broke, living on credit and facing financial collapse.

It is up to the 90 people – 54 Republicans and 36 Democrats – who convene the second session of the state’s 49th Legislature Monday to solve the state’s fiscal crisis.

It is more than likely that they will fail. They will fail because this same group had the chance to solve the problem last year and failed. And the year before that, most of these same legislators had the opportunity to prevent it and failed at that, too.

They’ve tinkered, they’ve dithered, they’ve blamed the former governor, the economy, the federal government, illegal immigrants, ideological holdouts and entrenched political partisanship. Too bad blame isn’t a solution, then everything would be fine.

In March, Jan Brewer, our accidental governor, in an address to a joint session of the Legislature, told the 90 that the state’s budgeting process was systemically broken and that the only way to fix it was the urgent passing of a tax increase and numerous budget reforms, most of which required a public vote.

One Republican senator walked on the address and the remaining members politely applauded and then did nothing.

Sure, they talked about reform and balancing the budget. They had special session after special session to try to balance the budget and pass a reform package. But they failed.

Now a year later, the same spending mandates reset. The Legislature convenes Monday facing more than $10 billion in spending requirements for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1, and an expectation that only about $6.7 billion in revenue will be collected. And this year’s budget still has about $8 billion of spending in it even though revenue is expected to top out at about $6.4 billion.

There is no way to close either gap. The amount of protected spending equals or nearly equals the expected amount of revenue for both years.

It is up to the state’s voters to release the Legislature from the spending ties that have bound up this state. But it is up to the Legislature to put the ballot measures before them.

The Legislature has about two weeks to pass the reforms in order to get them before voters in May. That would provide more flexibility for spending cuts for next year.

And cuts are the only option left. There is no tax increase that could raise enough money to balance the books in one year.

If January turns to February and no reform package has been referred to the May ballot, the Legislature will have failed again.

The only option left to stave off fiscal calamity will come in November when voters will have the opportunity replace the failures with new legislators committed to solving problems, not blaming others for them.

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