It became painfully clear on Wednesday that House leadership is the weak link in Arizona government. The evidence is a budget proposal that would send Arizona lurching backward in the crucial areas of early childhood care and education, Child Protective Services and higher education.
The House leadership's budget proposal stands in dismal contrast to lean but responsible budgets offered by Gov. Napolitano and the Arizona Senate that manage to keep vital programs intact even as the state enters another tight revenue year.
The House proposal, hatched in private by the Republican majority, contains no money to expand all-day kindergarten, or for university faculty raises, and seriously underfunds CPS and child care for low-incoming working families.
Talk about short-sighted.
Expanding all-day kindergarten is a cornerstone of Gov. Napolitano's budget, and she and the Senate should settle for nothing less than reasonable progress in that regard.
Adequately funding child care for low-income working families is also essential not only to ensure children from all backgrounds get a good start in life and learning, but also to ensure their financially struggling parents aren't forced to quit their jobs and fall back on welfare because legislators were too cheap and myopic to offer them the assistance they need and deserve.
Appropriations Chairman Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, justified cutting $22 million from the Senate's funding proposal for CPS because he was afraid the agency was “overfunded” and thus taking too many children from homes. The comment betrays Pearce's lack of understanding of CPS reforms adopted by the Legislature just last year — reforms that would ensure not only that every report of serious child abuse is investigated but that parents' rights are protected. These are important reforms that must be properly funded in order to work.
Finally, Pearce would eliminate funding for university faculty raises on grounds tuition increases will yield plenty of money for that. In reality, it would undercut important steps by the Board of Regents to improve the universities.
These serious deficiencies must be fixed, preferably by the House rank-and-file. If not, the Senate and Gov. Napolitano should prepare themselves for a budget showdown that they and the citizens of Arizona cannot afford to lose.