We on the Tribune Editorial Board have a fair amount of experience now writing about government budget shortfalls, having had to deal with Mesa’s woes for several years now.
So we shuddered upon reading Capitol Media Services’ Wednesday story about how the state collected $225 million less in sales taxes and other revenue than had been predicted for the 2006-07 budget year. That’s money that’s already been spoken for in Arizona’s new budget year, which began July 1, and projections for the upcoming year aren’t looking very encouraging either.
Naturally, politicans and staffers, — whom we finally rid ourselves of when the Legislature ended its session snatched this excuse to get back up on their soapboxes, either to downplay the shortfall’s significance (in the case of Gov. Janet Napolitano’s chief financial adviser) or to demand the air-conditioning be fired up again at the Capitol so the 90 legislators can get back to grandstanding about their pet project or peeve (as in Rep. Russell Pearce, apparently taking to heart our advice to show some versatility if he intends to run for Congress).
Neither of these extremes would be the best approach, as the Mesa experience would illustrate. If the city’s leaders had the foresight to realize that retail growth in Chandler, Gilbert and other outlying cities would not work in favor of a large, established city heavily reliant on sales tax, early action might have prevented the financial turmoil of the last few years.
Once things came to a head and cumulated in last year’s property tax election, politics and me-first sentiment displaced reasoned debate about the proper approach to the city’s future, not allowing anyone to conclude anything more specific than Mesans don’t like new taxes.
So to get back to the state budget, we don’t have any need or desire for the Legislature to rush back into session to waste time and money to address the loss of 2 percent of this year’s budget.
Nor would it be wise to take the soothsaying from the governor’s office, and even some Republican leaders, too seriously. The decline of the real estate market and other trends don’t auger well for this year, and if the bleeding isn’t stopped now, officials might be backed into a corner a few months or years from now; they might feel compelled to tap into the state’s “rainy day fund” to save nonessential but popular programs, or those difficult to stop funding for in the middle of the year.
The governor and her budget office need to start going over the budget now and identify areas where money can be trimmed with a minimal amount of pain for state residents and employees. If this is done quickly enough, a Band-Aid solution may be all we need.