J.D. Mesnard was a policy adviser in the Arizona Legislature for eight years, so the new representative from District 21 knows the lay of the land.
As a result, he has been giving some of his fellow freshmen tutorials on House procedure and terminology.
One thing he has no easy answers for, though, is a daunting state budget situation that must be confronted and dealt with when the new Legislative session begins this week.
“Going into this, my eyes were wide open,” said Mesnard, a Republican whose district covers parts of Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and Queen Creek. “There haven’t been a lot of surprises. I understand the magnitude of the problem.
“You think you know what scary is, and then you really see it.”
Arizona faces an estimated $825 million deficit in the current fiscal year. It gets even worse when the next budget year begins in July, as a projected $1.4 billion shortfall awaits.
Addressing the dire fiscal straits is unquestionably the top priority of all five of the local Legislative freshmen, all in the House — Mesnard, fellow District 21 representative Tom Forese, Justin Olson of District 19, Jeff Dial of District 20 and Steve Urie of District 22 — who spoke with the East Valley Tribune.
“It’s a perfect storm,” Forese said. “With immigration, AHCCCS and the economy that need to be addressed, there is a lot to get done. It’s a dire circumstance we’re in, but there’s a tremendous opportunity to set things straight.”
One other local House member, Democrat P. Ben Arrendondo of District 17, did not return phone messages.
Service cuts — some of them significant cuts — are certain.
“There’s a perception in the public when it comes to government, that there’s all this waste and fat,” Mesnard said, “that if we can just trim that away in a budget crisis, and we’ll be OK and we can spare the vital programs. At the federal level, I would buy into that. At the state level, those important programs that people care about comprise about 95 percent of the budget at the time there is a 30-percent shortfall.
“We are not talking about cutting waste. We are talking about cutting services that people care about.”
Mesnard added that deficits are as much of a revenue and economic problem as a spending problem that cuts alone will not solve.
How best to raise revenue? The local Republican freshmen — particularly Forese and Urie — focused on jobs, while Olson said he wants to balance the budget with no new tax increases.
“The state has asked a lot of the taxpayers in the last year,” Olson said, referring to the Proposition 100 sales tax that was devoted to education. “It’s now important for everybody to buckle down and make the appropriate reductions. I know that ($2.2 billion) over the next two years will be a difficult point to get to, but it’s possible.”
Asked in what areas he envisions cuts, Olson — who will serve alongside House Speaker Kirk Adams in District 19 (Mesa and Apache Junction) — said, “Everything has to be on the table.”
Urie, whose district covers parts of Mesa, Gilbert and Apache Junction, said that some tax and regulation “barriers must be removed” to attract business to the state.
While the challenges are many and urgent, Dial said, a new representative must resist the urge to overlegislate.
“I’m concentrating on election reform, some of the easier stuff,” said Dial, who represents parts of Chandler and Ahwatukee Foothills. “I’m going to take some time learning. You could come in here and (sponsor) a lot of legislation from the start, but I don’t want to be rash. I want to be deliberate and sure of what I do.”
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