Citizen Staff Writer
No legislative special session will be held to address the state budget deficit – a disastrous situation, as the fiscal year will be more than half over before there is any talk of a solution.
Legislative leaders blame outgoing Gov. Janet Napolitano for the lack of progress.
Despite the braying of legislators, Napolitano did her part, outlining a solution. But Republican legislators opted to punt, hoping they will have an easier time dealing with Jan Brewer, who will take over the Governor’s Office, probably next month.
The result of this political gamesmanship is that the range of potential solutions has been narrowed – to the detriment of Arizonans.
There is agreement on the numbers: a projected $1.2 billion deficit in the $9.9 billion budget for fiscal 2009. That’s a staggering problem: a 12 percent revenue shortfall in a budget that six months ago was forecast to be in balance.
Lawmakers said they would do the prudent thing and start tackling the deficit before the Jan. 12 start of the 2009 legislative session. That was smart. After all, with more of the budget unspent, the range of possible solutions would be wider.
Napolitano released a plan in October that included some cuts. She also proposed further agency reductions, transfers from unused accounts, use of remaining money in the “rainy day” fund and other options.
As the budget outlook worsened, Napolitano made more proposals that would have resulted in a budget balanced at the end of fiscal 2009 – with no tax increases.
The stage seemed to be set for a special session of the Legislature this month. Napolitano was ready to call one as soon as Republican leaders in the Legislature won consensus on some action – any action.
Then politics intervened. President-elect Barack Obama picked Democrat Napolitano to be secretary of Homeland Security, setting the stage for Republican Brewer to assume the Governor’s Office. So GOP legislators were less interested in working with Napolitano.
The plan for a special session collapsed. Senate President Tim Bee, R-Tucson, and House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, blamed Napolitano, saying she had provided “an incomplete plan” for eliminating the deficit.
Napolitano provided a plan. Bee and Weiers failed to work with their members to even address it.
As a result, legislators will show up in January with less time left before the end of the fiscal year – and the work not even started.
This is a clear failure of legislative leaders who hope to get sweeping cuts more to their liking from Brewer. When that happens, they will surely blame Napolitano for leaving them a mess.
This is a mess they could have started cleaning up, but they decided not to even begin that work.
Because of legislative political maneuvers, the deficit won’t be addressed until the year is more than half over.