Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Sales tax vote would solve only one-third of Arizona’s budget deficit

Imagine going to the doctor and he gives you the bad news that you have cancer but adds that it’s curable with surgery.

He gives you three options: 1) Do nothing and die; 2) pay a little bit of money and have him remove one-third of the tumor and hope the remainder magically goes away; 3) pay him to remove the whole tumor.

If Arizona’s looming budget shortfall was a cancer, our state Legislature just chose option 2. Or rather, it’s left option 2 up to you, the voter. If you choose not to choose option 2, then option 1 becomes the de facto option.

Ain’t our legislators grand?

After some last minute political gamesmanship, the Legislature this week ended its fifth special session to balance this year’s budget. They didn’t balance it, but they almost did. Sigh.

And rather than increasing taxes themselves to solve our budget problem, which they have the power to do without going to voters, or referring to voters a budget reform package asking them to relieve the state budget of voter-imposed spending mandates, they instead only referred to voters a one-cent per dollar sales tax increase.

Based on current economic activity, the sales tax increase, if approved in May, will generate about $1 billion next fiscal year. It won’t generate shucks this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Next year’s budget hole is $3 billion, not counting the millions from this fiscal year the chicken Legislature rolls over into next year.

So we’re still $2 billion short.

Without relief from voter spending mandates there is no way to cut $2 billion from the budget without shutting down state government, other than schools and Medicaid.

A $2 billion budget hole is about what the Legislature has been trying to resolve this year to no avail. The spending mandates and lack of revenue left it with no option but borrowing, and they’ve been doing that in bucketfuls, the interest upon which we’ll be paying for decades. How’s that for fiscal responsibility?

So now what?

As lame as it is, we need voters to pass the sales tax increase. It’s an all-hands-on deck moment; the entire Legislature and the governor must put their full political will behind this measure.

Yeah, right.

Most Republicans held their noses and voted aye, as did a few Democrats. But no one wants to nurture this tar baby. In fact, some in the Legislature, especially those who voted no, will campaign against it.

Who will be for this tax, other than the governor? Will a political committee form to raise money to buy ads and host town halls to trumpet this one-third-of-the-problem solution? Who would donate time or money to that committee?

And if voters don’t pass it, which is likely, then what do we do?

Cross our fingers and hope everything gets better? Hide under the covers? Move to a saner state with better government? Elect smarter, more reasonable legislators?

That last option sounds like a good one. And, perhaps, our only hope.

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