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Denogean: Governor, unlike most of GOP, gets idea of safety net



Not that I gave it much thought before, but I never realized until the economic crisis that the idea of “government as a safety net” was a controversial notion.

See, I naively thought that everybody agreed – even those who rail against big government – that times like the ones we’re experiencing now are precisely when government must step in to help its most vulnerable citizens. I thought it was accepted that such times are when government plays its most vital role and does its best work.

I guess that’s why I’ve had difficulty understanding the seeming indifference of Republicans in our state Legislature to the effect of the budget cuts they’re making. I don’t get their stubborn refusal to consider a temporary tax increase – or to even refer the matter to the voters – to preserve basic education, health care and social services.

But things became a little clearer to me earlier this month upon reading a commentary written by Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, for the March 6 issue of the Arizona Capitol Times.

He outlined the reality of the budget crisis – the state has a $3 billion deficit for fiscal 2010. Fair enough. But there were no words of reassurance that government would help those citizens who find themselves unemployed and/or reeling from the economic crisis.

Instead, Harper ended his commentary with a message to those Arizonans who are “underemployed or overexpectant.”

“If you are relying on any services from the state that are not mandated by the federal government, I advise you that those services may end June 30, 2009.

“If you have children that require expensive experimental treatment or therapy that is not provided by the federal government, I advise that the state does not have the money for it after June 30.

“If you have been laid off from your job and are not willing to take a job that is available, unemployment benefits, food stamps and AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System) for health care are going to fall short of what you could make by being employed.

“Arizona will not follow the country into socialism. If you feel you need greater assistance and are not able to move to another state, please turn to your local churches and give them the opportunity to show their generosity and love.”

That’s right, my fellow Arizonans, get off your lazy, free-loading unemployed butts and start digging some ditches or get out of town.

Geesh! Has Harper not read about the long lines at job fairs and, as just one example, the reports of thousands of people applying for a couple of hundred call-center jobs?

Sen. Scrooge – oops, I mean Sen. Harper – also argued that the state should reject the federal stimulus money that would allow Arizona to increase the maximum unemployment payment from $240 to $265 per week and extend the benefits to more jobless people.

“This would cause a tax increase on business to keep the fund stable and makes the provision unworkable,” he wrote.

I called to ask how much extra businesses would have to pay, but Harper didn’t return my call.

According to various media reports, accepting the stimulus money would require Arizona to extend unemployment benefits to an additional 10,000 people and the federal money for the new claimants would last about 11 years.

Meanwhile, Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, like most other Republican legislators, is disinclined to follow Gov. Jan Brewer’s request that the Legislature either raise $1 billion in new taxes or send the issue to the people to vote up or down.

He expressed concern last week that such a ballot measure would turn into a lopsided affair, with groups that support the tax spending millions to persuade the voters.

In other words, he fears the voters will pass a tax increase that he doesn’t support. And, clearly, that could only happen if the gullible voters of Arizona didn’t really understand what they were doing.

Brewer, also a Republican, proposed the tax increase, along with another $1 billion in budget cuts and the acceptance of $1 billion in federal stimulus funds to plug the deficit.

“We cannot balance this budget on cuts alone, nor on taxes alone, nor on federal stimulus dollars alone,” Brewer said in a speech to the Legislature earlier this month. “We cannot place all of the burden on our children and their schools. We cannot place all of the burden on the parents that need day care so they can go to work and stay off welfare. We cannot leave the sick on the streets alone to fend for themselves, only to overload our hospitals and our jails.”

With those words, the governor separated herself from her Republican colleagues in the Legislature. They don’t get the concept of “government as a safety net.”

But she does.

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

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For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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