The Arizona Republic, whose viewpoints I rarely agree with (though Benson is a good editorial cartoonist,) in their editorial on Sunday, Enough already, stop wrangling and pass the budget got it pretty much correct.
Arizonans are disgusted by the infernal wrangling, the partisanship, politics and ideological rigidity at the Legislature.
It's August, a month into the fiscal year. Arizona has a $3.4 billion budget shortfall. And we still don't have a solution that makes cuts without gutting state services, gives revenue a temporary boost and watches out for Arizona's long-term economic health.
The House voted out a budget package last week, one with plenty of warts but acceptable to Gov. Jan Brewer. It included a ballot measure allowing voters to decide on a three-year sales-tax increase.
But the Senate stalled. Both houses are looking for a straight GOP vote, and Sen. President Bob Burns failed to muster enough support.
After going through the dismal economic numbers, they continue
We can't cut our way to economic stability. We need an emergency dose of revenue, and the fastest, most effective way is through a sales tax.
It is astonishing and infuriating that in the name of ideological purity, some GOP legislators refuse to even put the question to voters.
They'd rather slash spending, leaving core services in tatters. Sen. Ron Gould won't even talk of a ballot measure. Sen. Pamela Gorman has remained a holdout, despite her leadership position as majority whip.
Now, they did then take a shot at Democrats for opposing the Governor's plan to refer a temporary sales tax hike to the ballot. They missed the reason for that though. While a sales tax is regressive and hits poor people the hardest, Democrats were nevertheless willing to back the plan if the permanent elimination of the state equalization property tax was taken out of the GOP budget. But it seems pointless and counterproductive to simply tax poor people to backfill a hole in the budget caused by a tax cut for rich people and corporations. The GOP then tried to get even more conservative Republicans to vote for their plan by adding an additional $400 million income tax cut, to take effect next year. By then that would have pretty much eaten up the entire sales tax for two years, after which the sales tax would begin to expire and the other tax cuts would be permanent.
Democrats understand that the voters are capable of making up their minds on whether they support a sales tax hike or not, but they aren't willing to support a potential tax increse just to pay for tax cuts elsewhere.
However the line I highlighted in bold print up there pretty much summarizes the situation. They want a straight GOP vote-- only that has proven impossible to get between the incompetence of the leadership, a party that has proven itself entirely incapable of governing and ideologues who dominate the floor and have only a single agenda-- to downsize government as much as they can and see the fiscal crisis as their best opportunity to do so (even to the point of literally, as Jack Harper made clear in his offer to support the budget if they fired five percent of state workers currently on payroll in every state agency.)
Democrats have not been consulted in good faith on the budget at all. During the regular session they were frozen out of budget negotiations from day one. At the very end when it became clear that the whole rotten June 4 budget deal would come crashing down under the weight of the Governor's veto without the sales tax referral and that there would not be enough GOP votes to pass it, GOP leaders tried to get Democrats to provide the necessary votes on only one item-- the sales tax. Given what else was in the budget, they justifiably said, 'no.'
During the special session GOP leaders apparently were negotiating in good faith with Democrats when they abruptly, minutes before they were supposed to meet, canceled the meeting and announced a deal with the Governor instead. In other words they had been negotiating with her all the time secretly. Well, that deal fell apart and I guess they got what they deserved-- except that we all suffer for it.
The editorial goes on:
Next week, the Senate will make another run at getting enough GOP votes to approve the House-passed package.
Frankly, Brewer made too many concessions in order to get support from her own party. The sales-tax increase would be 1 cent per dollar in 2010 and 2011 and drop to a half-cent in 2012. This is not a fiscally prudent move, when the recovery is expected to be so slow, federal stimulus money will be used up and so many budget gimmicks need to be cleaned up.
The budget deal also has a $400 million cut in corporate and individual income taxes starting in January 2011. Why make that decision now? It should be taken up when state finances are in better shape....
If the Republican votes aren't there next week, GOP leaders and Brewer may have to negotiate with Democrats.
Really? That is actually an option? I hope so.
This does make it very, very clear that the government works best with Democrats in control of either one house of the legislature or the Governor's office. When Republicans have controlled all of government over the past couple of decades Arizona has had one Governor impeached, another resign in disgrace, the $1 billion alt-fuels scandal (seems sort of quaint compared to today's hole but it is the fiscal disaster that came to define the administation of Calamity Jane.)
And then there is today's disfunctional legislature that can't even make things work within their own party.
Maybe it is time they negotiate with Democrats, and act like adults about it.