Arizona’s Budget Deficit: More Cuts to State Programs

Lest ExDeserto drift into blog heaven, I am pleased to finally post this month. At least I can check the box for “September Postings” even though it is a meager meal for voracious readers.

Earlier this morning, I am across this article on the Arizona budget deficit. Arizona is now in $850 million dollar deficit. That’s the good news because the next year, it gets worse with the projected budget next year at $1.4 billion dollars. I have stated before that raising taxes is not the appropriate response to this budget crisis.

Reliance on state funded programs – particularly on non-essential services – creates a welfare state. It’s not uncommon to confuse the non-essential with the essential. Without a doubt, government is needed to police its citizens and maintain stability. When it grows beyond those confines, it risks creating unsustainable benefits or committing superfluous expenditures, even if it is well-intentioned.

To cut this deficit, certain programs will be reduced. To a certain extent, this is unfortunate because corporately, Arizona citizens have become accustomed to certain benefits. Still, while budget and service cuts are inevitable, these cuts will hopefully stimulate the private sector to profitably operate a previously subsidized operation.

So where are we looking to trim these costs? The state-funded universities are not out of the clear yet. In fact, they are probably among the first on the chopping block – rightfully so too. Over-funding public education risks watering down the quality of education. It’s the same problem with socialized medicine.

Speaking of health care: the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) – the state and federally funded health care program – will receive its share of benefit reductions too. These are not easy cuts, especially with healthcare. Nonetheless, a time existed when these programs did not exist, yet we managed; and we will continue to do so.

Why I voted “NO” on Arizona Prop 100

Today the polls open for Arizonians to vote whether to approve a one-cent sales hike for three years to benefit public schools and public safety.  I voted early and I voted no.

Over the past few months, there has been an incredible amount of spin associated with Prop. 100 – almost all exclusively by those in support of the sales tax.  I’ve heard the refrain on the news and in the office: our public schools need support, and we need to support public safety too.  But the thought that failing to support higher taxes means that I am somehow anti-government is absurd.

I am for fiscal responsibility.   Arizona, for the past number of years, has continually dug itself into a financial hole.  Salaries of state and local government employees have swelled as great as the economic boom of the mid-2000s.   It wasnt’ bad at first because year-over-year revenue suggested that future years would be more profitable than the current ones.  But this house of cards quickly collapsed after the economic downturn and as a result, Arizona still has a billion dollars of money to raise or programs to cut. 

Arizona just has not managed its money well over the past decade and am I opposed to raising taxes on the population to cover its financial mismanagement.   The government needs to manage the money entrusted to it, not raise more to pay for its mistakes.  Look, I think funding public safety is important – especially here in Arizona where the state is plagued with unique problems with border enforcement and illegal immigration.   But there is a problem when there are more police sergeants than necessary, and police officers aren’t properly utilized.  Public safety is top-heavy right now and police officers are sometimes being charged with (and paid for) completing tasks that can be best left to lower level (and lower paid) government employees.

Let’s talk about education too.  Supporters of Prop 100 cry wolf if this does not pass: more teachers will be cut, classroom sizes continue to swell and the level of education will drop precipitously.   Arizona, however, has been consistently at the bottom of the barrel in public education.  It can’t drop much further even if class sizes triple.  And look, this issue is dear to my heart too: for the most part, I am a product of public education.  Education is important, but even here, changes are necessary.

The public school system is in desperate need of a paradigm shift.  Reading, writing and arithmetic are certain baseline principles, but so are real-life, practical classes too.  Instead of reading “See Jane Run” teachers need to put more emphasis on the principles of basic budgeting.  I’m not laying the problems on the teachers, the issues are far deeper and systemic than any one group of employees or individuals.  After all, teachers are mandated a particular curriculum with goals, tests, objectives and sub-objectives.  Meeting these goals are supposedly a benchmark to a well-performing school and a well-performing, adapted student.  Even these are flawed.   And as a result, we are sending waves of under-performing students into the workforce or into college without a solid education foundation.

Just throwing money at a program won’t solve a problem.  This is what Governor Brewer, the media, and the general public seem not to understand.  And those that stand to benefit the most are raising their voices, extending their hands, and casting incredulous stares by those challenging the State to make changes to how it has done business over the decade.  Arizona needs to conduct a hard look at how it operates its budgets and it needs to make hard decisions.  But equally, it needs to develop innovative, new solutions.   Just adding a tax is like sticking a finger into a drain.  It’ll plug the problem temporarily, eventually you’ll want to remove the finger.   Until Arizona fundamentally changes how it manages its budget, its schools, public safety programs and other publically funded endeavours, Arizona will continue to encounter one problem after another.

At some point, we need to say “enough is enough.”  I am drawing the line in the sand with Prop 100.  It’s time for Arizona to own up to its mistakes and quit avoiding the hard decisions.  Governor Brewer needs to make a holistic, top to bottom review about how the state already spends its hundreds of millions of dollars.