We wanted to cheer when we learned Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, and Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria, used their positions on a little-known legislative committee Wednesday to block a proposed $1 billion construction package for buildings at the state’s three public universities.
Pearce and Burns said it’s ridiculous for Arizona to move ahead with such massive spending when, only three months into the fiscal year, the state budget is facing a $300 million shortfall, the Tribune’s Ryan Gabrielson reported Thursday. Pearce and Burns also refused to act on plans to borrow money for additional classrooms for full-day kindergarten programs, Capitol Media Services reported.
Arizona voters should grind their teeth in frustration, as many political leaders don’t seem to recognize the depth of the state’s fiscal crisis. This budget was originally adopted in late June only after lawmakers acted with Gov. Janet Napolitano to “erase” a looming $2 billion deficit. But that was not nearly enough as the shortfall could still reach $1 billion over the next nine months.
Despite all of this, Napolitano pushed to borrow $1 billion for university construction, including $470 million to expand a medical school in downtown Phoenix. A majority of lawmakers (mostly Democrats) bought into the notion that the debt could be repaid by expanding the Arizona Lottery. But as with everything else under the national financial meltdown, lottery sales are slumping.
To Napolitano’s credit, she did act Wednesday to prevent most state agencies from issuing new contracts of more than $50,000 without prior approval. But Napolitano and the universities are complaining that the maneuver by Pearce and Burns was illegal, and a lawsuit might be coming.
We usually don’t like legislative shenanigans. But Pearce and Burns absolutely did the right thing to stop at least some of the bleeding. Arizona is going to need a lot more leadership like this in the months to come.