Arizona legislators, who already oversee a state that spends less on education than almost every other, have found a way to spend even less.
And they did it with humor and jokes about sending Arizona back to the Middle Ages.
Is this really the state we want for ourselves and our children? The answer is a resounding “no.”
Neophyte Gov. Jan Brewer over the weekend affixed her signature to shameful and unimaginative legislation that will cut education, welfare, social service programs and state parks while moving Arizona one step closer to becoming a moribund, Third World backwater.
There are crippling cuts to universities while an innovative program that provided grants to boost biosciences and technology was wiped out.
And that is how the state budget for fiscal 2009, which is more than half over, was balanced – at least for now. More red ink still could flow before June 30, and more cuts may be needed.
The three state universities will have to find ways to cut $140 million in spending in five months – a dire situation that likely will mean people will lose their jobs.
But it was all fun and games to House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who joked about the impact on Arizona State University.
“Since our cuts are going to send ASU back to the Middle Ages, the question is how many monks will they need?” Kavanagh asked during budget talks. He later said the department of chemistry should be changed to the department of alchemy. Such a clever man.
Kavanagh has a doctorate, but he apparently feels the state can now afford to decimate its institutions of higher learning.
Arizona’s youths don’t have to wait until they get to college to be the butt of legislators’ jokes, however. Elementary and high schools must cut $130 million in five months – a move that seems likely to ensure Arizona spends less on schools than does any other state.
A welfare program for disabled people waiting for Social Security benefits was eliminated. Low-income people receiving subsidized health care will have to pay new monthly premiums. And at least five state parks will be closed.
Yes, the state has serious financial problems. Arizona’s projected deficit of 16 percent is higher, percentagewise, than that of any state.
But the budget fix signed by Brewer shows an appalling lack of creativity. Brewer didn’t even submit a budget proposal of her own, leaving it to legislators to slash and burn.
There were other ways – better ways. Former Gov. Janet Napolitano proposed borrowing against lottery and tobacco lawsuit revenue. That might not have worked, but it didn’t receive even a nanosecond of consideration.
This is a budget fix in which cuts to programs were made largely for philosophical reasons, under the guise of fiscal responsibility.
This is a budget fix that is bad for Arizona.
Key points of the state’s budget-balancing plan:
• Lump-sum cuts and salary reductions for state programs and agencies: Agencies decide whether to use layoffs, furloughs or vacancy savings.
• University funding: Cut by approximately $135 million: smaller than an early $243 million set of options, but larger than the Board of Regents’ offer of $100 million.
• K-12 public schools: Funding to districts and charter schools would be cut by approximately $130 million.
• Stimulus money: Anticipates the state receiving $500 million in federal economic stimulus money.
• Health care: Make AHCCCS enrollees pay new monthly premiums. No change to existing KidsCare program.
• Transfers: Sweep money from special-purpose funds into the General Fund.
• Building projects: Delay and cancel some projects. One-year postponement of a $10 million expenditure for a southern Arizona veterans home. – The Associated Press