Many constituents have asked me where the budget is and what’s going on– after all, it is May. On the budget, the status quo of the past month still exists. All of the budget action continues to be behind closed doors, among a closed group of Republicans.
In addition to the Democrats, there are a significant number of House Republicans who are not part of the budget process, and they’re grumbling about it. This is a state budget– not the budget for a small town church. The deacons and the pastor don’t get to decide the budget on their own in the back room. The budget should be negotiated with all parties at the table– not just a handful of those close to power. Democrats make up 48 percent of the Arizona House. When more than 50 percent of the Legislature is kept in the dark and has to rely on rumors, that is not a fair process, and it ultimately hurts the people of Arizona.
Except for the Governor’s budget, which has been public for months, and some leaked details about the Senate Republican budget, little is known about the budget, beyond a few trial balloons. What we do know is that the Senate Republican budget is far more conservative and not even close to Governor Doug Ducey’s budget.
This chasm in the GOP has left an opening for Democrats. The House Democrats will unveil our balanced budget ideas on Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. We have been saying since January that we agreed with parts of the governor’s budget– like full tax conformity and more money for P-20 education. [Stay tuned for details.]
On the right, Senator J.D. Mesnard and other tax cut fans still want to zero-out the money the state could bring in from tax conformity (~$150 million) and Wayfair (~$85 million). There are multiple trial balloons about making the income tax rates flatter. One proposal is to have only two personal income tax brackets. This is a horrible idea– unless, of course, your goal is to return to austerity and Draconian budget cuts, while making your rich donors happy. Under the Republican proposals to eliminate or lower tax brackets, rich people would pay less, and the rest of us could pay more. (Think of the Republican tax bracket plan as Arizona’s mini-Me to the Trump Tax Cut and Jobs Act. Both significantly lower taxes for the wealthy by reducing the top tax rate.)
In addition to proposing tax cuts to eliminate revenue we don’t have yet (ie, tax conformity and Wayfair), these right-wing Republicans are trying as hard as they can, in as many ways as they can, to give away the $1 billion of extra funds that the state of Arizona has this year. Besides P-20 education and roads, Republican Legislators swept funds from many programs when Wall Street crashed the worldwide economy and created the Great Recession. Pretty much none of these funds— including nearly $1 billion in Highway User Funds, $300 million in environmental quality, $79 million in housing funds, $80 million in childcare subsidies, and much more— have been restored.
Republicans — and their big-money donors— really liked austerity and want to go back to budget cutting. Austerity gave them a great reason to tell the people of Arizona, “Sorry, we just don’t have enough money for public education.”
By now we all realize that this is BS. Arizona taxpayers have been bankrolling $13+ billion in tax giveaways. How successful would Intel and Raytheon really be if the taxpayers weren’t propping them up with tax giveaways and corporate welfare?
On Monday, in the Arizona House, we had a resolution to honor the Goldwater Institute for their 30 year anniversary. In the tribute, they mentioned the Goldwater Institute suit regarding the gift clause. They complained that governing bodies in the State of Arizona were playing favorites and giving out corporate welfare (business incentives) to select corporations in violation of the gift clause. This is actually one thing that the Goldwater Institute did that I agree with. If we are a capitalist country, government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers and giving taxpayer money away to select corporations. I thought capitalism was based on the bootstrap myth of some amazing guy with a great idea, and, through self reliance and hard work, he becomes a successful, visionary businessman. Government just needed to “get out of his way” for him to succeed. (This is what I learned when I read the “Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand in high school. Use of “He” was intentional.)
Because of tax giveaways and the budget cuts to fund them, public education has been shortchanged since the Tea Party Reign of Terror began in 2011. Of course, for a group of Arizona Legislators, TAX CUTS are more important than public education.
In 2017, Sine Die (the last day of session) was May 10. In 2018, Sine Die was just a few minutes after midnight on May 4. Today is May 7, and there is no end in sight– except that rumor has it there are three Senators who are leaving at the end of May for vacation and not coming back. Rep. Travis Grantham is being deployed in mid-June.
Except for these hard, external deadlines, the Republicans would probably continue to drag their feet on the budget… as they have been for weeks. To move things along, there are rumors that some of their more intransigent members on the extreme right may be cut loose from the pack if they don’t agree on the budget.
If you want to hear background on our state’s current financial status and hear the Democrats’ budget ideas and what we know about the GOP ideas, come to one of the Dems’ tax forums. The Southern Arizona Dems (LDs 2,3,9,&10) will be holding a budget town hall on May 9 at 6 pm at Pima Community College NW– in the room where the LD9 Clean Elections Debates take place. Come on down. Bring your questions and ideas.