The people have spoken. They want their government back.
More specifically, as the tea party movement takes hold across the country, they want a downsized version of that government back.
But what does that mean, exactly?
Here in Arizona, Republican candidates rode the anti-Obama, anti-health care, anti-big government wave to sweeping victories. Those are mostly national issues, but they resonate with Arizona voters. The trick now for Arizona politicians is taking that sentiment and translating it to local politics.
Incoming Senate President Russell Pearce has vowed to run that legislative body with a tea party philosophy of lower taxes, smaller government and states’ rights as he seeks to erase Arizona’s nearly $900 million deficit and balance the state budget.
Lowering taxes and balancing the budget seem like contradictory goals. The money to balance the budget has to come from somewhere, or else cuts to government spending have to be really deep.
From Pearce’s comments so far, that sounds like the course of action he wants to take — the course of action voters want him to take.
But before we go rushing into this new wave of massive government cuts — outgoing Senate President Bob Burns has called for a special session in December to address the state’s budget deficit — we need to take a step back as citizens and ask some questions.
What do we want the role of government to be?
Police and fire protection, postal services, a court system, sanitation and things like paved roads are basic services we expect. We want water to come out of the faucet when we turn it on, someone to answer the phone when we call 911 and a judge to settle disputes and protect our rights. But what about other “necessities?” Many people say they want less government — except of course when it comes to programs that directly affect them.
Do we want public schools and universities, or private?
State parks? City parks? Prisons?
Public transit? Bus service for people with disabilities?
What about benefits for veterans? Or Child Protective Services?
Is a “little bit” of socialism OK? Social Security? Medicaid? Medicare?
What role should government play in prohibiting corporate exploitation, racial or gender discrimination?
To what extent should Big Brother be involved in the economy and job growth?
Should environmental concerns like pollution — and, in Arizona’s case, dust — be controlled at the government level?
Where does quality of life fit in? Public libraries? Museums? Symphonies?
Government buildings with a hint of architecture, or square blocks with four walls and a roof?
What about the lame, the sick and the destitute? Should the poor take care of themselves?
Is an investment in a pro sports franchise worth the economic benefit and community pride it provides?
Should cities spend money on community events like fireworks shows? Holiday lights?
Do we demand limited government, yet expect immediate action when natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the BP oil spill occur?
What about AHCCCS, the state’s Medicaid program that accounts for a huge chunk of the state budget? Voters in 2000 chose to expand that program and increase the number of people eligible for benefits. Yet Pearce has already identified AHCCCS as a prime target for cuts. Is that what voters want?
We ask these questions not to say that governments — at all levels — shouldn’t be taking a hard look at spending cuts. By all means, they should. But to what extent? And in what areas?
The other point hammered home in Tuesday’s election was that voters want candidates who represent the will of the people, not the will of the party they serve.
To that effect, this is the time to let your voice be heard. When the Arizona Legislature reconvenes in January — if not sooner — some important budget decisions will be made. City government budgets will also continue to take hits in 2011.
Are you confident your elected representatives share your values when it comes to government spending?