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GOP’s plan: Cut revenue, blame deficit on Napolitano

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

Our Opinion

Follow the bouncing ball and see if you can understand this logic from the Arizona Legislature:

• Although Democrat Janet Napolitano hasn’t been governor for weeks, Republicans still are blaming her for the state’s budget problems.

• Legislative Republicans this week set their priorities for 2009. At the top of their list: eliminating $250 million in revenue.

That’s right. On one hand, Republican legislators say the former governor is responsible for the gobs of red ink in the budget. And on the other hand, their first goal is to reduce the state’s revenue stream.

Napolitano left Arizona on Jan. 20. During six years in office, she had a balanced budget every year – budgets that the governor signed after they were passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature.

No sooner had she departed to be President Obama’s secretary of Homeland Security than the GOP finger-pointing started, identifying Napolitano as the sole cause of the state’s $4.6 billion combined deficit this fiscal year and next.

“The last governor caused this problem,” said state Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa.

Pearce is beginning his ninth year in the Legislature, but he would be well-advised to review the state constitution. The governor cannot sign a budget unless it is first approved by the Legislature.

And while Pearce and friends were complaining about Napolitano’s fiscal sense, they went on record this week with their legislative priorities for 2009. Task No. 1: Eliminate the state property tax.

A history lesson is in order: In 2006, when Arizona had a budget surplus, the property tax was suspended for three years. Legislators wisely did not cancel the tax, just suspended it to return money to property owners.

Now the three years have passed, the surplus is only a memory and the tax is scheduled to go back into effect, returning $250 million annually to the state. But GOP legislators say they now want to permanently eliminate it.

While narrowly focused tax cuts to spur the economy are worthwhile, this does not fall into that category. Allowing the tax to return would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $6.30 per month. The real beneficiaries of eliminating the tax would be utilities, mines and other businesses that pay big property tax bills.

And with the state slashing education, day care subsidies and all sorts of programs, this is not the time to knock a new $250 million hole in the state budget.

The constitution requires a majority vote of the Legislature to reduce or eliminate a tax, but a two-thirds vote to increase a tax. Eliminating this tax now to score political points would cause irreversible harm to the state’s revenue stream.

It’s time for Republican legislators to get over their dislike of Napolitano and plan out the long-term fiscal future of Arizona. Wiping out one source of revenue is not the responsible way to do that.

Republican legislators blame budget problems on Napolitano. Then they move to make the problems worse.

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