January 12, 2005
Republican lawmakers made their case Tuesday that the state continues to spend beyond its means and can’t afford many of the suggestions that will be in Gov. Janet Napolitano’s proposed budget.
Lawmakers who serve on budget-writing committees were briefed Tuesday about the approach of Republican leaders to dealing with the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. Tax revenue continues to surpass expectations and likely will be $270 million higher than earlier predictions, said Richard Stavneak, staff director of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
But state spending in many areas is rising just as fast, he said. As the state’s population grows, more students enroll in school, more poor people apply for health care subsidies and more criminals get sent to prison.
Stavneak said state spending will reach $8.36 billion if lawmakers only fund increases mandated by state law, nearly $1 billion higher than the current year. But tax revenue is likely to reach only $7.88 billion, leaving a gap of $477 million. Stavneak also presented a chart showing the budget gap continuing for several years.
"We don’t necessarily grow our way out of the problem, especially given the spending demands that are in front of us," Stavneak said.
But most of the spending gap as outlined Tuesday would be created by two Republican-preferred strategies that haven’t been part of recent budgets. Republicans want to start paying up to $300 million in cash for school construction instead of borrowing. They also suggest following a legal formula that would require setting aside up to $189 million for the state’s "rainy day" fund set aside for unexpected needs.
Democrats dismissed Tuesday’s presentation as a Republican publicity ploy instead of a hard look at the state’s spending needs.
"This is not their budget recommendation. This is just a set of assumptions to look at," said George Cunningham, the governor’s top budget adviser. "To us, there’s not enough detail in it and not enough information in it to do any analysis."
But Rep. Pete Rios, DDudleyville, admitted the state doesn’t have enough money to satisfy all of the demands, even if Republicans are inflating the budget gap. The outlined budget numbers don’t include many spending priorities of Napolitano and other lawmakers, such as full-day kindergarten, pay raises for state employees and compliance with a court order to provide better instruction to students who do not speak English.
"It’s going to be bad enough as it without us digging a deeper hole," Rios said. "I think we can come up with a balanced budget, it’s just an issue of how."
Rep. Russell Pearce, RMesa, said stronger GOP control of the Legislature this year could result in a more serious attempt to cut or eliminate some state agencies.
"There are options this legislative body has that I think will put out better government, that will not expose the taxpayers to tax increases in the future and get our house in order," Pearce said.
Napolitano plans to release her budget proposal Friday, and Stavneak said a legislative version might be offered on the same day.