Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Vague budget brewing

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

Gov. Jan Brewer threw everything but specifics into her budget proposal Wednesday.

For example, to help reduce the looming $3 billion budget deficit, Brewer wants a temporary tax increase to generate $1 billion. But she didn’t say whether the sales tax or income tax should be raised.

She didn’t even declare who should make the decision: the Legislature, which would need a two-thirds vote by each chamber, or voters, who could pass it with a majority.

Chances that legislators would raise taxes are remote. Many have signed a pledge not to increase any tax. And the mere mention of raising taxes during this recession sparked heated criticism from Brewer’s fellow Republicans.

Voters also may recoil from a tax increase, with unemployment at 7 percent and climbing. But given the choice of a penny tax or decimated universities, child protection inspectors and other needs, voters could accede to the cent.

You can’t fault Brewer for trying, but she needs to spell out specifics.

She deserves full credit, though, for urging lawmakers to accept about $1 billion of federal stimulus money each year for three years.

We especially appreciate her request for fast-track legislation by March 14 so those new dollars can reverse budget cuts that eliminated child care subsidies for 15,000 children of the working poor. (The feds provided about $20 million to help working parents of 20,000 children.)

Brewer’s proposed attack on Proposition 105, however, is ill-conceived. The Voter Protection Act was passed in 1998 to keep legislators from messing with voter initiatives, such as First Things First, which levies a tobacco tax to improve early childhood care and education. Underscoring the need for the act, lawmakers recently swiped $7 million in earned interest on First Things First’s fund.

Prop. 105 protects about 35 percent of the budget, making cuts more difficult. But the Legislature long has ignored Arizonans’ wishes, which is why Prop. 105 passed. Undoing it now would be especially counterproductive.

Brewer would be wiser to seek a repeal of Prop. 108, which mandates the two-thirds “super majorities” in both chambers to increase taxes or reduce tax exemptions. Prop. 108 makes tax increases virtually impossible even now, when the state is in dire straits.

The governor also called for more budget cuts, which goes without saying. The state has to slash 28 percent of its $11 billion budget, the worst except for Nevada’s 37 percent shortfall.

We don’t support all of Brewer’s ideas, but at least she stepped up with a plan, albeit vague, to address our fiscal crisis. Now legislators should set their partisan sniping aside and forge some compromises to balance our budget while protecting Arizona’s most vulnerable residents.

Gov. Jan Brewer’s plan is vague but includes some bold ideas. Now lawmakers must fill in the blanks intelligently.

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