Unpopular budget is a bitter, but necessary, pill - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Unpopular budget is a bitter, but necessary, pill

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Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2011 5:01 am | Updated: 8:31 am, Mon Apr 11, 2011.

There’s no shortage of critics for the $8.3 billion state budget that was passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday.

The Republican-led plan for Arizona’s future includes $1.1 billion in cuts to balance the budget — which is double the amount of cuts that have occurred over the past two years.

• The Arizona Education Network condemned Brewer for having “complete disregard” for the state’s economy by supporting $183 million in cuts to K-12 public schools. Brewer pledged last year to protect K-12 funding when she lobbied for voters to approve a temporary 1-cent state sales tax hike to support education.

• State universities are facing a 20 percent cut totalling $198 million. They’ve already passed that buck to students, raising tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates this week by 19.5 percent at Arizona State University, 22 percent at the University of Arizona and 15 percent at Northern Arizona University. This comes on top of a 63 percent hike in tuition rates over the last three years at the three universities.

• Cities and counties are unhappy because part of the $1.1 billion in cuts was accomplished by shifting costs to local governments.

• State employees are affected as well, as they will be required to contribute a greater share of their salary to their retirement fund.

• Medicaid takes the biggest hit, with $500 million in cuts for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (contingent on federal approval of a reform package Brewer submitted to Washington, D.C., last week). That could be challenged because a 2000 voter-approved initiative requires the state to provide free health care for everyone below the federal poverty level — about $18,300 for a family of three. Brewer’s plan could knock up to 160,000 people off of the AHCCCS rolls, estimated at 1.3 million. Republican lawmakers contend the 2000 law requires the state to fund AHCCCS only to the extent that funds are available — which clearly they are not.

Put it all together, and that’s a lot of unhappy people. It also comes on the heels of the Legislature passing a jobs bill that is based on tax breaks for businesses in hopes that it will stimulate the Arizona economy by creating jobs.

On these pages, we haven’t been shy about criticizing the Legislature for some of the things it has done. When our lawmakers failed to address the state budget issues or the economy in 2010 — an election year — we thought that was reprehensible.

But now that Brewer & Co. have finally passed a balanced budget, we’re not ready to join the chorus of critics unhappy with their actions.

Cutting education in a state under-performing in that realm is always dicey. Several of our Tribune employees have volunteered at schools, and we see first-hand how important smaller class sizes are to the quality of education our children receive.

But something has to give.

Whether you’re a big corporation, a small business, a newspaper or the state government, the amount of money going out can not be greater than what’s coming in. That’s Economics 101.

And it’s also reality.

Nobody with any foresight or compassion likes to see cuts that affect education or health care, in particular. But those are the two biggest parts of the state budget, and in this economy you can’t balance a budget without taking a hard look at everything.

The Legislature’s actions aren’t going to be popular, but they are necessary to reverse government’s free-spending ways of the last decade and keep our state out of debt.

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