Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Budget for moral obligations, too

Guest Writer
Guest Opinion

This economic crisis reminds us that many hardworking, taxpaying citizens in our communities are one or two life-changing moments away from poverty and desperation. And it reminds me of my childhood experience.

When I was 6, my father died, leaving my mother no choice but to go on public assistance for three months to support our family until she could find a job as a maid, take in laundry, and apply for my father’s Social Security.

We didn’t plan it; we didn’t want it. My mother was a proud woman. But we needed it. And, thank God, the help was there for us.

Arizona’s human services safety net exists to support people – like my mother – with temporary services that help them work their way back to self-sufficiency.

Today, Arizona’s economic turndown is putting more people in my mother’s position. The safety net is straining and is at risk of unraveling.

In order to close a $1.6 billion shortfall in the 2009 budget, the Legislature approved a lump-sum reduction in human services of more than $100 million.

That decision has resulted in many Arizonans getting fewer essential services or losing them all together. Because of layoffs and furloughs, many more children and families are facing longer waits to get needed services as the employees who remain struggle with ever-increasing caseloads.

The 2010 budget offers no relief. We are faced with at least a $3 billion shortfall. But unlike the 2009 budget – where we had to make some very painful and very fast decisions – the 2010 budget gives us an opportunity to step back.

We have time to consider not only what these cuts mean in terms of dollars and cents, but also what they mean to people who need services now, and what they mean to our state in the future.

The research is clear about what happens when families do not get the services and support they need: educational failure for children, higher crime rates and economically depressed communities.

That’s not the Arizona I know. It is not the Arizona many of us worked so hard to build. And it is not the Arizona I want to live in or leave to our children and grandchildren.

As elected officials, we have a duty to our constituents to be responsible administrators of taxpayer money. But the state’s bottom line should not be the only measure of our actions.

It has been said, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and, those who are in the shadows of life – the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

As we continue budget negotiations for 2010, may all of my colleagues at the Legislature – Republican and Democrat – consider both our fiscal and moral responsibility to Arizonans. Despite our current challenges in Arizona, may we strive to leave our state in better shape than we found it. All of us!

As my mother’s story reminds me and should remind us all, when we see a family struggling to pay for groceries, a person left homeless because of a job loss and eviction, or a senior citizen having to be institutionalized because no one is at home to help them – there, but for the grace of God, go I.

Republican state Sen. Carolyn S. Allen represents District 8 in Scottsdale.

We have a

duty to be

responsible administrators. But the state’s bottom line should not be the only

measure of

our actions.

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