To say our state is in serious financial straits is a great understatement. The downturn in the U.S. economy has certainly been felt in Arizona and it doesn't appear we can expect a turnaround anytime soon. Compounding the problem, the Arizona Legislature has passed and the governor has signed the worst budget our citizens could imagine.
With all the borrowing, gimmicks and sleight-of-hand tricks that are in the 2009 fiscal year budget, it could be called the "2009 Deceiving Our Kids" budget. Others have rightly called it "reckless," "a fleecing of the taxpayer," and a "monumental failure." They're being kind.
In concert with legislative Democrats and eight Republicans - four from each chamber - Democrat Gov. Janet Napolitano snookered Senate President Tim Bee into agreeing to a bloated budget that will be, as Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Burns called it, a "train wreck" waiting to happen. That train wreck will happen after most of the main players will be out of office, leaving a new Legislature and, thank heavens, a new governor to clean up the mess.
The makeup of the Legislature provides veto-proof protection for the governor. So it would have been difficult to get much of what the Republican majority in the House had proposed. But this budget is a disaster.
With more than a $2 billion shortfall facing the state in fiscal year 2009, this governor strong-armed the Legislature to borrow $1 billion. That huge debt is left for future budget negotiators to worry about and for us taxpayers to pay off - with interest, of course.
During Napolitano's reign as head of state, she has pushed for an expansion of state government (she and her cohorts call it "investing in the future") at a rate almost double the rate of inflation and population growth. And now, like always, the chickens have come home to roost. But instead of cutting back (she agreed to only $317 million in cuts), the Napolitano budget of 2009 uses smoke and mirrors and, surprise, even more borrowing to expand government even further. Here is a rundown of some of the cars on that train:
Borrowing another $1 billion for universities. This additional billion-dollar debt will be "paid back" using a clever twist - expanding the state lottery. Now there's fiscal responsibility at its best; let's gamble our way out of debt.
$527 million in debt financing (more borrowing) for K-12, including fully funding kindergarten. Ah, yes, but it's "for the children."
Another $330 million K-12 rollover, on top of the $272 million K-12 rollover for FY2008. So that will put us two months behind on our "credit card."
Stealing $30 million from municipalities and counties, money previously allotted to them.
And $50 million more in various accounting gimmicks that would make a loan officer at Countrywide blush.
The governor believes this $2 billion shortfall is "only a bump in the road," that the economy will bounce back big and soon. With oil prices continuing to rise and the Middle East saber-rattling heating up even more, it is more than likely we will be waiting years for a bounce back.
But with the governor's plans for our future we can always buy a lottery ticket. Maybe.
Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Gilbert, represents legislative District 21.