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Blame recession for Az budget mess

The Arizona Republic

Gov. Jan Brewer frequently blames the budget mess she inherited on reckless spending by her predecessor, Janet Napolitano.

Now, Napolitano was a big spender. The state General Fund increased 63 percent during her six-year tenure.

And this spending was driven by her. Some years, Republican legislators were complicit in it. And some years, legislative Democrats combined with a few Republicans to overcome the opposition of a majority of Republicans.

The original 2009 budget, which I described at the time as the most fiscally irresponsible I had seen in more than 30 years of watching, was almost exclusively a Democratic affair. The overwhelming majority of legislative Republicans, who are now stuck with cleaning it up, were against it.

Blaming Napolitano for the current budget mess, however, is an exaggeration. As is blaming the tax cuts Republicans muscled through in the days of plenty.

Simply put, this economic downturn overwhelms all other factors. Even if the state had controlled spending more and cut taxes less, the deficit would be big and ugly.

Nevertheless, if Brewer believes that runaway spendng is a principal culprit, there’s a conspicuous missing part in the reform agenda she announced in her speech last week.

She proposed a larger, more protected rainy day fund to help the state cope with the next downturn. But nothing to restrain the growth in state spending during the next upturn.

Presumably there will one day be an upturn and state revenues will be gushing again. And, without institutional constraints, whoever is governor and in the Legislature will spend them. That’s a force of political nature to which both parties succumb.

Arizona has a state spending limit, based upon a percentage of personal income. Right now, there’s almost $2 billion in unused spending capacity under it.

If there’s to be a special election, reducing the state spending limit and eliminating some or all of that future spending capacity should be the first measure on the ballot.

Good Joe and Bad Joe

There’s a very vigorous effort going on nationally to get rid of the program that enables local law enforcement officers to become trained and authorized to enforce federal immigration laws. And Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s thinly-disguised immigration sweeps are Exhibit A in the case for repeal.

Outright appeal is unlikely. After all, Napolitano is the head of the Department of Homeland Security, in which the program is housed. And as governor, she signed up both the state police and corrections department to participate. She understands the program’s value.

The General Accountability Office recently released a report that has drawn attention. It found that the program wasn’t being supervised to ensure that local authority was targeted at serious crimes committed by illegal immigrants, the goal of the program as announced by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Arpaio said that if his use of the authority were circumscribed, he might pull out of the program entirely. That’s curious. He won’t use additional authority to go after serious crooks if he can’t also use that authority to go after bad-driving cooks and busboys?

On this issue, there’s a Good Joe and a Bad Joe. The Good Joe used the authority to check the immigration status of everyone booked into his jails. This provided some real information, rather than academic speculations, about illegal immigration and crime. And it has resulted in the identification of over 22,000 illegal immigrants charged with some kind of a crime.

The Bad Joe uses the pretext of enforcing traffic laws and other minor offenses in an attempt to roust out illegal immigrants. This disproportionate and disingenuous law enforcement attention violates basic American values of equal justice under the law. And it has netted just a fraction of the illegal immigrants the jail program has.

My guess is that ICE will try to constrain Bad Joe. Good Joe shouldn’t then just pick up his marbles and refuse to play.

E-mail: robert.robb@arizona republic.com


Blame recession, not Janet, for Arizona budget mess

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