The state constitution charges the Legislature with doing only one thing each year: adopting a balanced budget.
And although legislators have been in session for more than three months, there is little indication they are any closer to coming up with a budget than they were when they convened Jan. 12 in Phoenix.
In the meantime, a projected deficit of $3 billion is looming.
Despite promises of an open process that would encourage public input, this budget process is one of the most secretive in memory. And the public will have a chance to see it and comment only when it is a fait accompli.
Former Gov. Janet Napolitano presented lawmakers with her plan for a balanced budget in January, just before leaving to become secretary of Homeland Security. Legislators, unfortunately, ignored her proposals.
Then Jan Brewer took over as governor and has been MIA on the budget.
Soon after taking office, Brewer said she intended to produce a budget proposal. But she hasn’t done that.
Then last week, Brewer said she “almost believes” she should present the Legislature with a specific plan. But that almost belief has yet to translate into action.
Meanwhile, a select few legislators are meeting in secret to come up with a budget plan.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Last fall, when he was campaigning to be House speaker, state Rep. Kirk Adams, a Mesa Republican, criticized past budget agreements hatched behind closed doors.
“An open, deliberate, caucus- inclusive appropriations process best achieves sound budgets and good policy,” Adams wrote at the time.
Adams won his campaign to be speaker, but he has failed to follow through on his promise of an open and transparent process.
He has been criticized not only by minority Democrats, but also by fellow Republicans.
Some GOP members even have resorted to holding their own budget hearings so the public can be heard. That may be the only way the public can have a say on state spending priorities before all is said and done.
Adams said voters will be allowed to comment when budget details go before the House Appropriations Committee – but he can’t say when that will be.
That’s unacceptable. Legislators work for us, and we should be able to talk about how the state will spend its dwindling dollars before decisions are made, not after the final package is drawn up.
There will be plenty of pain in next year’s budgets with severe cuts all around. Legislators have failed to keep us informed of what they propose doing to make the budget work.
This is an unacceptable way to conduct one of the most crucial aspects of the people’s business. It has been poorly handled by Brewer and poorly handled by leaders of the Legislature.