As state government wrangles over balancing a budget, Gov. Janet Napolitano on Monday fired back at criticism of her plan.
Napolitano gave the keynote address at a Scottsdale Rotary Club lunch meeting at the Camelback Inn in Paradise Valley to about 150 people.
The budget can be balanced with spending cuts, revenue bonding for construction and temporary fiscal measures, including selling state assets.
"We have a lot of equity in comparison to debt in our state," said Napolitano, who added she will not tolerate cuts to education and state universities.
The governor returned criticism from legislators. Critics contend her budget borrows too much.
"Borrowing is not bad," Napolitano said. "This is what businesses do, and they do it in a smart way and a tactical way so they can maintain their essential functions during an economic downturn. . . . It’s smart, particularly in the interest-rate market we have today."
The governor said the budget cannot be balanced by spending cuts. Two-thirds of the state budget is already spent under federal and voter mandates, the governor said.
"We’ve already been cutting, cutting, cutting," Napolitano said. "There’s a little bit out there of fluff and waste. . . . And we’re finding that and cutting it."
State revenue is roughly equal to that of 1999, the governor said. However, expenses have ballooned. More than 100,00 children are in kindergarten through 12 th grade than in 1999. Prisons hold 5,000 more inmates than in 1999, with an average annual cost of $24,000 per inmate. Half a million more people have enrolled in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or state health care for the poor.
"So, when people say, ‘Governor, you increase spending,’ I say, ‘You tell me which inmates you want me to let out of prison, which schools do you want me to close, and which of your parents don’t get long-term care out of the AHCCCS program?’ That’s where the money goes: To those vital functions that government has to perform."
Napolitano denied that her budget is "mortgaging the future by having a
budget like this."
"We mortgaged our future in the 1990s. We had the resources. Rather than invest in public education, we took $500 million out of public education," she said.