Lawmakers move to put constitutional limits on state spending - East Valley Tribune: Msnbc

Lawmakers move to put constitutional limits on state spending

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Posted: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 7:10 pm | Updated: 8:40 pm, Wed Feb 9, 2011.

By wide margins, a Senate panel late Tuesday today approved four separate measures designed to restrain future state spending.

Two of the measures would put firm limits into the Arizona Constitution spelling out how much lawmakers would be authorized to spend.

One would link new state budgets to the amount of money actually collected in taxes the prior year. Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said this measure, SCR 1026, is the way businesses have to plan their own budgets.

The other, SCR 1019, would lower the existing constitutional limit on state spending. While that would have no immediate impact -- with the recession, the state is currently below the proposed limit -- it would restrain future growth when times get better.

A third measure, SB 1231, proposes statutory spending caps. And SB 1408 sets procedures lawmakers would have to follow if they want to go outside spending limits.

A 1980 voter-approved constitutional amendment limits total spending to 7 percent of total personal income of everyone in Arizona. That figure now stands at 7.41 percent because lawmakers took on some new obligations, notably funding of health care for indigent.

Critics say that limit is largely meaningless. At the peak of the boom in the 2006-07 budget year, the budget was still slightly less than 7 percent of personal income.

SCR 1019 would lower that to 6.4 percent.

Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said that still provides plenty of room for growth. The cutbacks in state spending have put the current budget at just 5.95 percent.

But Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said that figure is a bit misleading.

"We're establishing that limit in a year when we're building no schools and doing no maintenance or repairs,'' he said. In fact, the state's $8.5 billion current budget does not include about $1 billion worth of formula changes in things like state aid to schools that lawmakers did not fund.

But Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, said the state was probably spending a lot of money on other, lower-priority items at the peak.

Antenori's measure, by contrast, eliminates any reference to a cap tied to personal income in favor of a link to the money coming in. It would start with the total tax revenues for the prior year and adjust for inflation and population growth.

There are, however, escape clauses.

One allows lawmakers to submit the question of a higher spending limit to voters. And if voters approve an increase for three consecutive years, that last year would become the new base.

The other permits a declaration of an emergency with a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate and concurrence of the governor.

Neither of the new proposals could take effect without voter approval in November. It will ultimately be up to legislative leaders to decide which plan to take to the ballot.

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