In their push to balance the budget, leaders in the Arizona Legislature have proposed cuts that would decimate education and punch crushing holes in this state’s protective net of social services.
It is an unreasonable attack on some of Arizona’s neediest citizens and would make it far more difficult to put the state on the road to recovery once the recession ends.
With the state facing a projected $1.6 billion deficit in the current fiscal year ending June 30, and up to $3 billion more in the next fiscal year, there are no good solutions.
But the budget-balancing options put on the table by key Republican legislators show a shocking lack of thought and creativity.
For example, there is a proposal to eliminate KidsCare, a health insurance program for children whose parents earn too much for state-paid care. The savings of $18.3 million would be more than offset by costly emergency room visits and additional care provided by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
There also is a proposal to provide child care subsidies to fewer families. But savings of $8.1 million would be more than offset if some parents are forced to stop working and go on welfare.
Funding for school computers, textbooks and other equipment also may be chopped. But Arizona already is at or near the bottom in school funding. Will we be better off with worse schools? Obviously not.
Savage cuts also would devastate the university system. There is talk of cutting $388 million from the universities over the next 18 months.
As University of Arizona President Robert Shelton pointed out, “These figures are so extreme that they would absolutely cripple higher education in our state.”
The universities are the most powerful economic engine in Arizona – but they would be ill-equipped to jump-start the economy, making it far more difficult to recover from the recession.
In total, the proposals would cut $1.5 billion out of Arizona education in the next 18 months – something that probably would wipe out all-day kindergarten, libraries, school nurses, counselors and much more. There likely would be teacher layoffs and lower teacher salaries.
Arizona’s budget deficit is massive. We cannot cut our way out of it. Much more creative solutions are needed.
Legislators have vowed not to incur more debt – and the vast majority of the time, we’d agree with them. But we cannot eat our seed corn. We cannot permanently undermine the future strength of this state to dig our way out of the current – and temporary – financial mess.
Some limited borrowing would be far preferable than these devastating cuts proposed by legislators. Let’s get creative instead of wildly slashing at our future.