When the Arizona Legislature convenes this week, lawmakers face a dreaded task that can be put off no longer: Dealing with an $825 million budget deficit in the current fiscal year and a $1.4 billion deficit in the next fiscal year.
Nobody likes to face the hard facts about a bank account that doesn't cover expenses. Just ask the millions of Arizonans who have lost jobs and homes, saw their paychecks and retirement funds slashed, and struggled to make ends meet the past couple of years during the worst national recession since the 1930s. They've searched high and low for jobs that aren't there, taken other jobs that don't pay as well, filed for bankruptcy, moved their families into more affordable homes, and pinched every penny they have as the costs of housing, gas, groceries, utilities, insurance and other expenses have gobbled up more of their income.
Now it's time - past time really - for our elected leaders to make their own difficult decisions. It's time for them to focus, focus, focus on getting Arizona's economy back on its feet again. Our state cannot afford for Gov. Jan Brewer and the Legislature to be distracted by the kinds of things that marked last year's session: saving the old-fashioned incandescent light bulb, making it OK to play with sparklers again, giving just about anyone the right to carry a concealed gun, ensuring that no one can ever breed a human-animal hybrid.
Whether or not you supported last session's biggest distraction, SB 1070, the fact is that immigration bills also need to take a backseat right now so Arizona can do what's necessary to become fiscally healthy again. Last week, Senate president-elect Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, wisely decided to remain in Arizona and focus on the budget instead of going to Washington D.C. to help pitch his pet legislation to change the 14th Amendment so that babies born to illegal immigrants are not automatically granted citizenship.
Brewer also declined to go to the nation's capitol, citing concerns that a high-profile debate on that issue would detract attention from the state's finances.
"I think our first priority, of course, is to get the budget out; secondly, to get our economy and jobs created here in Arizona for the people of Arizona," the governor told Capitol Media Services. "If we can accomplish those things, I think that's our No. 1 priority."
Hopefully our elected leaders will continue to keep the budget and the state's economy at the forefront of this legislative session.
If they start to veer off this path, it's up to the rest of us to set them straight again. To that end, in our preview of the upcoming session in Sunday's Tribune, you will find profiles of the legislators you elected to represent the East Valley. Read up on them. Follow what they do in the coming weeks and months. And if they fail to focus on fiscal concerns, let them know that you expect better from them.
It's up to the governor and Legislature to oversee the state. It's up to us to oversee them.