Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy was in many ways a difficult man to figure out.

His three brothers were groomed to be leaders. As the baby of the family, Teddy had to figure out how on his own.

All three of his brothers died violently. Teddy died at home in his bed.

Three plane crashes claimed the lives of members of the Kennedy family over the years. Teddy was once in a plane crash too, but he survived his.

Nobody questioned the burial of his brothers at Arlington National Cemetary. The army has invited Ted to be buried there too but I bet you a dollar to a can of beans that some idiotic right wing talk show host will claim that the army was pressured into it (for the record, Ted Kennedy is a Korean era veteran and has every right to be buried at Arlington for that reason alone.)

As the youngest of the Kennedy brothers, he was never expected to become the leader. His father Joe Kennedy wanted for one of his sons to become a President, the first catholic President of the United States.

So from an early age, he groomed his oldest son, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. to become the leader.

Joseph Sr. was a bomber pilot in World War II and volunteered for a dangerous mission, in which he was shot down.

So then the mantle fell on John the second son, who had heroically survived his own brush with death during the war. And John did one day become President. And died when a bullet, fired by whom has never been conclusively determined, blew his brain out of the back of his head.

And then the third son, Robert, took the mantle up and determined to become President and finish the job that John had started. And he was well on his way when he died by the same cause as John did.

And so it fell on the youngest son, Edward, to carry on the tradition.

There is no doubt what Edward's biggest failure was, it came in 1969 when he got drunk and drove a car off of a bridge with a young campaign worker. Kennedy managed to get out of the submerged vehicle and swim to safety but the campaign worker died. Kennedy admitted himself that his conduct that night was 'inexcusable.'

Republicans have used Kennedy's personal failings and biggest mistake to flog him for over forty years (although they typically only reserve this treatment for liberals, conveniently forgetting that Laura Bush also once killed a person while driving drunk.)

And during those forty years Kennedy has grown into one of the most effective legislators that the Senate has ever known, writing and then sponsoring legislation with senators of every conceivable stripe. I disagree with Barney Frank's overly romantic statement today that Ted Kennedy was the most influential person in American history who was never elected President mainly because I'm sure that 95% of Americans if asked that question would name Ben Franklin (and I would be one of them) but nevertheless it is a good measure of how effective a legislator he has been. Someone pointed out today that Kennedy's tenure in the senate has been exceeded in American history only by Robert Byrd (still serving) and the late Strom Thurmond, but it is virtually certain that Kennedy has had more success over the years at writing and getting legislation passed than either of them. It is probably Kennedy's effectiveness that has so infuriated conservatives to where they are much more likely to detest Kennedy than, for example, Robert Byrd. Just like in sports, the loudest boos are reserved for the opponents who have stuffed your team in the past.

More than any other cause, Kennedy wanted to see universal health care extended to all Americans. He later wrote that his biggest legislative failure was in opposing a Nixon-backed plan in the early 1970's that included something along the lines of a public option, because Kennedy at the time favored a single payer plan. Eventually the opposition was strong enough that nothing got passed. Since then however Kennedy has pushed tirelessly for reform, until his own health became so bad that he couldn't do it anymore. Even then, he was ready right up until the end to literally be wheeled into the Senate chamber if his vote were needed to pass reform.

But like his brothers, he won't live to see the vision fulfilled. We must do it though, because passing health care reform this year, with a public option, would be the best and most fitting tribute we could pay to Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Terror alert level raised for political reasons, says the man who raised it

Today, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge admitted that the reason why the terror alert was raised a level before the 2004 election had nothing to do with terrorism.

Instead, it was part of a strategy devised by the Bush campaign to help ensure his re-election that year. Apparently the campaign pressured Ridge to find an excuse to raise the terror alert level in the weeks before the 2004 election until he went along with it, despite having no intelligence suggesting that an attack was any more likely than it had been.

Remember that Mr. Ridge, a former Republican Governor or Pennsylvania who earlier this year was still being courted by national Republicans to run against Arlen Specter in the Senate race next year, was President Bush's hand-picked first Secretary of Homeland Security. Hardly the bomb-throwing liberal that some on the right would suggest must make this kind of accusation. But he was a Bush White House insider and as the person who actually did raise the alert level he certainly knew very well why he was raising it.

Let's also remember that when liberals dared to suggest that any kind of national security policy might be political, the Republicans would always wave the bloody flag of 9/11 and impugn their patriotism.

This wasn't all that long ago, after all, even an elephant can remember a few years back.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Republicans own the Republican budget.

The latest word from the capitol is that the GOP legislature is, as it looked like they might do last week, going to pass exactly the same budget that Governor Brewer vetoed on July 1, and this time she will sign it.

She will blame this surrender, ironically enough on Democrats.

Yes, you read that right. After being frozen out of budget negotiations for months (and the proposed Democratic budget was never considered at all by the GOP leadership, by the way) the only times when Democrats were consulted was when it became clear that the GOP leadership was all tied up in knots with themselves with a deadline looming and they needed one more vote-- and then it was never the Democratic leadership, but individual Democrats (Hale and later Miranda) who they tried to get to defect and vote for a terrible budget for a price, and as I noted they were consulted literally hours before deadlines and not at any other time or with any other Democrat. Luckily neither of those two took the bait.

Zelph at AZ Netroots has a pretty good summary of all the times that Democrats were consulted at all here. As you can see the number of times when even individual Democrats were courted is a short list, and never once did the Governor bring together a 'five party' solution (herself, and the majority and minority leaders from both houses of the legislature,) something Democrats had been repeatedly asking for. You'd think she was superstitious about the number five or something.

Blaming Democrats that a bad budget passes with only Republican support because none of them actually was willing to sell out and vote for the bad budget? That would be bad enough in and of itself.

However we can go further, and point out that this isn't just a bad budget full of budget cuts. It's a bad budget full of tax cuts (especially the permanent repeal of the state property tax.) Asking any thinking person to vote for a sales tax referral when all it will do is backfill a tax cut that mainly benefits the rich and corporations who can pay good lobbyists is a sham in and of itself.

Let's be clear. This is a Republican budget, written exclusively by Republican leaders, passed with only Republican votes in a legislature where Republicans have absolute control, and if it is signed it will be a Republican Governor. This turkey will be their budget, they will own it and there will be no way one could argue otherwise. Democrats can't do anything about this budget because they've been locked out of the room for a long time. Blaming Democrats would be like blaming the person you outbid at an auction if the item you bought turns out to be junk.

But they will try it anyway.

Friday, August 14, 2009

At least Democrats are bothering to meet constituents

We've all seen the coverage of noisy protests at town halls and other meetings, including disruptions of events that weren't even town hall meetings at all by protesters wanting to shout down Democratic congressmen and Senators over health care.

But what about Republicans?

Well, some certainly have held town hall meetings but others apparently don't even want to bother, or else they have held them to carefully selected and hand-picked crowds, with tickets being handed out by local Republican operatives to other Republican activists.

Want to ask Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) or David Vitter (R-LA,) both of whom are running for re-election next year? Don't bother, they aren't holding meetings open to the general public. Neither are some Republican house members.

I guess their minds about how they will vote on health insurance reform are already made up, they will vote against any bill, no matter what it says. Wanna bet they won't even bother to read a summary of what's in the bills? After all, they won't have to answer any questions about it.

Criticize Democrats whose town halls have been disrupted by protesters all you want (although Washington Congressman Rick Larsen figured out how to control the protesters, by holding his town hall in a spacious outdoor stadium in which only the person at the mike could be heard then also opening the meeting with the national anthem.) But if you want to criticize Democrats then acknowlege that at least they have bothered to schedule the town halls in the first place.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This is what Jan Brewer wrote on July 1. She was right then. Will she still stand by it?

It looks like the Arizona Senate passed (and the house will probably pass tomorrow) a budget similar to the one that Governor Brewer vetoed on July 1 (and just like on that occasion, they also won't refer her sales tax proposal to the ballot.) And just like on that occasion, it cuts even deeper to accomodate a repeal of the state property tax.

Here is what she wrote in explaining her decision to veto the budget on July 1:

"I am deeply disappointed to report to the people of Arizona that the Legislature has been unable to send me a responsible budget plan. While Senate President Bob Burns and House Speaker Kirk Adams have worked with tremendous effort and diligence to reach a reasonable compromise with my proposal, regrettably, those efforts have fallen short.

"As a result, I received early this morning a fatally flawed legislative budget. The legislative budget ignores my consistently expressed goals and instead incorporates devastating cuts to education, public safety, and our state's most vital health services for the frail. In particular this package of bills is shortsighted in that it sets up an enormous revenue shortfall that will severly harm our State's
[sic] future.

"Therefore I have carefully and selectively chosen to line-item veto portions of the legislation which allows me to add back funds for vital services and public safety so those critical programs are unaffected. Additionally, due to my actions today, state government services will continue to function. Improvements in education funding, however, will require significantly more legislative work.

"As Governor, I intend to see this through until we have achieved together what I have long advocated -- a prudent budget that neither over-spends nor under-funds. To ensure that happens, I am calling a Special Session of the Legislature and I ask that legislators re-dedicate themselves in a bi-partisan fashion to crafting a budget that reflects favorably on the future of Arizona.

Had the legislature actually followed her advice and chosen to work in a bi-partisan fashion, we would probably have an acceptable budget by now. But their insistence on continuing down the road they were on, trying to create a Republican-only vote (and with the backdrop that a critical block of Republicans were having their votes dictated by Grover Norquist) led them right back down the same dead end.

Now we have to ask whether the Governor meant what she said, especially the last sentence on July 1. If she meant it then she has no choice, she must veto this budget too and demand that Democrats be included in the negotiations this time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'm lookin' over, a four leaf Grover

OK, what do these pictures have in common?

The first picture is of Grover Norquist, a Washington D.C. political godfather who has 38 Arizona legislators wrapped around his little finger.

The second picture is Grover the little blue monster from Sesame Street.

Some ways to tell them apart:

Grover #1 is a member of the Republican Party. Grover #2 has a birthday party every year.

Grover # 1 wants to shrink the government to the size where he can drown it in the bathtub. Grover #2 likes to sing in the bathtub.

Grover #1 wants to cut taxes. Grover #2 wants to cut the cake.

Grover #1 owns more than a third of the Arizona state legislature. Grover #2 owns good friends and a song in his heart.

Grover #1 threatens to retaliate against anyone who votes to raise taxes.
Grover #2 is partly funded by taxes.

Grover #1 is afraid the big, bad government will take away his money.
Grover #2 is afraid the cookie monster will take away his cookies.

OK, can you tell which Grover is which now?

I bet even if they REALLY had another forty years they still couldn't get the state budget done.

If you look real close at the latest AZ Central article about missing the budget deadline you'd find that they haven't really missed the July 31, or August 1, well actually it could be August 7, no wait-- August 10, er. 11th, 2009 deadline.

That's because the dateline on the article is DECEMBER 31, 1969 (!)

So maybe the legislature invented a time machine and went back forty years so they could work all the problems out.

Although looking at how well this group works with each other, I'm not sure that even working on the budget for forty years would be good enough.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Repost of, "Winslow Basha's to close; Super-Walmart to remain open."


Monday, August 10, 2009

Winslow Basha's to close. Super Wal-Mart to remain open.
Proving some of us right several years ago.

Winslow is a two-grocery store town.

Some years back Wal-Mart wanted to expand to Super Wal-Mart (i.e. including groceries.) A number of us felt that this would eventually force either Safeway or Basha's to close, and thereby trade better paying jobs for Wal-Mart jobs.

We lost.

Wal-Mart did open Super Wal-Mart, and I can't say I'm surprised that Winslow was on the list of fourteen Basha's stores slated to close by October. Last year they changed their closing time to an hour earlier and I was honestly surprised that they weren't on the list of closures last month, right before the bankrupcty filing.

Now, I've had my problems with Basha's in the past (mostly over their recalcitrance to allow the workers to organize under UFCW if they want to-- see this post, though I have to admit I haven't faithfully kept up my boycott (though I have faithfully boycotted Wal-Mart).

Some conservatives will blame UFCW for Basha's demise. This is of course ridiculous--the UFCW never did organize Basha's, and Basha's workers earn about two dollars per hour less than their counterparts at unionized grocery stores like Safeway and Fry's, so if unions were the problem then you'd have to figure that those stores, which actually do have unions, would have gone out of business rather than Basha's. But as far as anti-union activity is concerned, Basha's is like a good-looking colt racing against Rachel Alexandra compared to Wal-Mart, the undisputed king of union-busting (recall that a Kingman Wal-Mart employee was let go some years back just for saying the word, 'union,' and it took several years before a court held that the employee was wrongfully terminated; and even then I think that Wal-Mart felt that the damages they had to pay was just part of the cost of doing business because the ultimate result is that they still have no union in Kingman or anyplace else.)

The lack of pockets as deep as out of state competitors certainly is a problem, especially if you are competing with someone like Wal-Mart (which in just about a decade has gone from just breaking into the grocery market to being the number one selling grocer in Arizona and a number of other states as well.)

The bottom line is that in a town the size of Winslow (population 8,000 including the inmates at the prison, plus several thousand more people from southern areas of the reservation who come in to shop every day) there just isn't the population base to support three supermarkets. If the same checker earns $7 an hour at Super Wal-Mart as earns $11 an hour at Basha's and $13 an hour at Safeway (roughly typical wages at each store) then clearly Wal-Mart is saving money on the front end. With them getting stuff shipped in from out of state in large quantities they save on the middle end too, and since a lot of their stuff (even including some canned foods and other groceries) is produced out of the country they save on the back end too.

Winslow Basha's bought a lot of the 4-H kids' animals at the county fair every year, which the kids usually save the money and put it in their college fund. Somehow I doubt if Wal-Mart will be buying any locally grown 4-H animals.

I understand that a lot of people shop at Wal-Mart because they don't have much money. Granted, my wife and a few other people who have joined coupon sense have learned how to shop cheaper at Basha's and Safeway than at Wal-Mart, (Wal-Mart doesn't have double, triple or quadruple coupon deals) but most people shop at Wal-Mart to save money. I understand that.

But I hope that the people (especially the Winslow city councillors at the time and former mayor Bob Bolles) who supported the Super Wal-Mart realize that just as opponents predicted at the time, they've just traded $11 an hour jobs with decent benefits for $7 an hour jobs with few benefits, thereby increasing the poverty rate in Winslow.

Winslow is a tough town and it will survive, but it will be hard for the Basha's employees (many of whom I know) who are now being dumped out onto the street during a deep recession.

Labels: Basha's, Safeway, Wal-Mart, Winslow

# posted by Eli Blake @ 8:24 PM

just heard the news... another empty store on that side of the street.
sad day for Winslow...
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : 18 August, 2009 23:37

Saturday, August 08, 2009

It's time for the President to lead

With the health care debate in full swing, with members of congress and Senators out there seeing their meetings being disrupted by organized action by the right wing, I think that a lot of Democrats have at least been wondering why the President isn't taking more advantage of the absence of congress from Washington to control the news. And he could be saying (or at least have his administration saying) plenty: As Nate Silver points out, the administration has already cut taxes on 98.6% of working Americans. But not very many people know that because no one in the administration has actually bothered to point it out. In fact, with Republicans out there screeching about hypothetical tax increases that haven't even been written by anyone yet, probably more people incorrectly think the administration has already raised taxes than correctly know the administration has lowered them. This administration should also point out that a relatively modest investment in auto bailouts plus cash-for-clunkers (which total less than the amount given to just a couple of banks) has saved hundreds of thousands of jobs in factories, parts suppliers and dealerships. What are they waiting for? To win an "aw-shucks" award for being humble?

After all, isn't this the time when he has the podium all to himself if he wants it? I will grant that there are certain events (such as the North American summit and the annual presidential speech to the VFW) that he is obliged to attend, and last week was a good time for him to go on vacation, with the Senate still in session and focused on confirming Justice Sotomayor.

But that's done and over with now. Now is the time for the President to lead, to inspire. And if he wants to talk about health care then he shouldn't just go out and spout statistics like he did in the news conference a few weeks ago on the subject, he should be talking about the battle his mother had with insurance companies just to get her cancer treatment covered (that resonated on the campaign trail.) He should be talking about how our lack of preparedness for the swine flu coming back this winter is exacerbated by the fact that people with no insurance may not seek treatment right away and in the meantime could spread the virus rapidly throughout the whole population-- darn right, this is a national security issue. And one which will in the end also cost a lot of people some serious money. He should be talking about people like my neighbor who was recently ripped up by two pit bulls only a block from my house and had to be helicoptered to and spent a full week in the hospital(story is here) as she saved the lives of her young children by taking the attack herself, and why she shouldn't have to worry whether she can pay all the bills for something that was no fault of hers.

The President is at his best when he is talking about the big picture, with passion. And it's time for him to be at his best.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Endgame: call these two senators about the budget

The latest on the budget is that the next 48 hours will likely determine whether they get a bad budget passed or if the Governor and GOP leadership will finally have to negotiate with Democrats (perish the thought.) You know it's bad when even Robert Robb agrees that the Republican leaders have negotiated in bad faith.

They have managed to get Sen. Harper on board their bad budget (I assume that means if it passes then some state employees will be fired just for the sake of 'shrinking government' by firing some people, since that was the main condition he insisted on.) Otherwise the budget looks a lot like the versions that Governor Brewer vetoed on July 1.

As it stands now they would do away with, or at least continue the moratorium on, the equalization property tax and give away millions more by cutting the corporate tax income tax rate from 7% to less than 5% and also reduce the top personal income tax rate.

In exchange for this they would backfill some of the budget cuts and the tax cuts they are so keen for by putting the Governor's one cent sales tax plan on the ballot in November. If it passes offically one third would go to prisons and social services and two thirds to education. Of course most of that would only go to pay back what is being taken out in the tax cuts.

If this sounds like the plan they've been pushing all along, you are right.

The twist is that they still don't have enough votes. They need sixteen. The two remaining holdouts who won't vote for the sales tax referendum are Sens. Pamela Gorman and Ron Gould.

The new angle is that with Harper on board they are now twisting the arms of two moderate Republicans, the two who they didn't invite for the original June 4 vote at 3 AM when this budget was born because they would not vote for it. The two still are saying they won't support the new deal because they believe that with this kind of a deficit more tax cuts would be irresponsible, and also because of the scope of cuts to education and state services.

So they are having their arms twisted every which way.

The two are Senators

Carolyn Allen (district 8, email and phone (602) 926-4480)

Jay Tibshraeny (district 21, email and phone (602) 926-4481)

If you have a chance, please take a moment to email and/or call Senators Carolyn Allen and Jay Tibshraeny and urge them not to vote for a bad budget in which voters are asked to pass a sales tax just to pay for tax cuts given mainly to corporations and the wealthy, and tell them that you appreciate their standing firm against it so far. I'm sure they are being bombarded by the right as well.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Phony protests against health insurance reform


This was what was portrayed by the media as a 'citizen riot' which stopped the Miami-Dade recount in 2000.

We now know that these were paid Republican congressional staffers who were put on a chartered plane from Washington DC and flown to Miami where they basically served two purposes; they created so much chaos that the elections board was unable to finish the recount (while also being put in fear of their personal physical safety,) and they defined the media story as angry 'ordinary citizens' being outraged that 'Democrats' were trying to 'steal' the election. The identies of the protesters were not known for several weeks and by that time we were already into the Bush presidency.

I bring this up because it seems like the GOP and their allies in the health insurance industry are apparently going back to the same playbook.

Reports coming from seperate townhall meetings held by congressmen from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Texas all have rowdy members of the audience carefully choreographed and shouting slogans to drown out the answers that the members of Congress gave to questions that were asked about health insurance reform. Apparently these folks have no interest in the answers the congressmen gave themselves but only in shouting so loud that they can't give an answer at all. In Austin, Texas after congressman Lloyd Doggett was shouted down so loudly that nobody at all could hear what he was saying, protesters outside the event followed him to his car and physically blocked him from leaving.

My own congresswoman, Ann Kirkpatrick was a bit smarter. She held a townhall last week (which I listened to)-- via teleconference. Callers who wanted to ask a question gave their name to a screener and only one was allowed on the phone at a time, and congresswoman Kirkpatrick gave intelligent, thoughtful answers. Maybe next time Lloyd Doggett will do the same thing.

If this were a genuine citizen revolt, that would be bad. Only it isn't. After it was reported that some of the protesters arrived in a group and were bused in, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs specifically fingered an organization called, "Conservatives for Patient's Rights," that organization took responsibility today for organizing the protests. And they said they will continue to do it, too. They even acknowlege that they are using the listserv for the 'teabaggers.' I guess the same group of zanies have more than one hat they can put on. Given what happened eight and a half years ago, I think it's fair to ask how many of these folks are paid Congressional staffers. It's almost funny now to hear them call things like this 'the teabagger movement' or the 'private insurance movement.' Yeah, they make me think of a movement all right, and I'll leave it there and keep it clean.

Conservatives for Patient's Rights is headed and funded (to the tune of millions of dollars) by one man-- former hospital CEO Rick Scott. Scott had to step down as CEO of the Healtcare Corporation of America, a for-profit chain of hospitals after financial fraud led to the company having to pay $1.7 million in fines. In other words, let's say he's an 'outcomes-based' kind of guy, how he gets there doesn't matter. And the outcome he wants right now is to defeat health insurance reform.

So the tactics the right is using to derail health insurance reform apparently include shouting down any attempt at a normal rational discussion, theats of violence and physical intimidation (ask congressman Doggett about that.) I guess the good news is that they must know that they can't win an open debate based on the merits of their position (if they thought they could, they would allow the debate to just go forward, feeling confident that if the facts were on their side the proposal would just cave in under its own weight, sort of George W. Bush's social security reform plan did in 2005.) So knowing that they would rather revert to the kinds of tactics that worked for them back in the Florida election dispute.

It's worth pointing out though that there are other guilty parties besides Scott for putting misinformation out there.

We now have seen two of the main righty bloggers cross the line into full out manufactured video tape. The issue in question concerns a video that was featured on Matt Drudge's site (courtesy of Andrew Breitbart) that apparently shows Obama saying his goal is to eliminate the private health insurance industry. Only it now turns out that Breitbart in fact pieced together clips of Obama speaking the words he needed and cut and pasted them sort of like old ransom notes used to be put together with words clipped from a newspaper. People who intentionally manufacture stories to fit their point of view like that give all bloggers a bad name.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Letting property tax holiday expire on schedule is NOT "raising taxes"

One of the biggest priorities (in fact, it was number one on their list of priorities) that Republicans in the legislature have pushed even with a deficit that dwarfs the Grand Canyon is the permanent repeal of the state equalization property tax.

The tax, designed to help school districts in parts of the state where there is less of a property tax base to begin with (like here in Navajo County, for example) affects all homeowners to a small degree but is mainly a tax on wealthy corporations and landowners.

Three years ago, Republicans in the legislature negotiated with then-Governor Napolitano a three year suspension of the tax. It remained on the books but was not assessed. The 'tax holiday' is now over and the equalization tax is due to come back this year.

Not surprisingly some businesses with highly paid lobbyists are complaining about this and calling it a 'tax increase.'

Which charge is complete and utter nonsense.

It is NOT a tax increase at all, even if it comes back in full force. It is a temporary tax reduction (a 'gift' from the state) ending on schedule. Three years ago this was agreed to by all parties, and if nothing is done it will revert to exactly the same rate schedule as it was being computed at then, and which it would still be if there had been no agreement on a temporary (there's that word again) suspension of the tax.

Suppose that the local grocery store where you live puts an item on sale. They advertise the sale, and tell you that it will end next Friday. So suppose that it ends as scheduled on Friday (just as they said it would) and the price reverts to what it was before the sale. Would you then be justified in storming in on Saturday and complaining to the store manager that they 'raised their prices?' OF COURSE NOT!! And if you did make that complaint they would laugh in your face (well, maybe they would be polite to you because they do want your business but you can be sure that when they met together in the back room to go over paperwork at the end of the day they'd have a good laugh at your expense.)

How is this any different? Three years ago all of us homeowers, but mainly these wealthy corporations benefitted from a temporary tax cut. What part of 'temporary' don't they understand? I understand it as a homeowner and will probably, if the tax goes by the wayside, see it reflected in my tax bill next year. But had the deal not been struck three years ago then everyone would have paid the same bill they paid then all along. So I have no right to complain.

That's the last time we should ever negotiate a 'temporary' suspension of a tax. Instead of being grateful for what they got, the wealthy corporations now think that this is their birthright, and their lobbyists have insisted on it (and the GOP legislature has complied in every version of the budget bill so far) regardless of the fiscal situation that the state is in. The tax will cover $250 million of the state's more than $3 billion deficit, so clearly allowing it to come back isn't the whole answer but it would take a nice slice out of the deficit.

And if you think they have grown used to this cut and think it is owed them, just think how ugly things will get when the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule in 2011. You ain't seen nothing yet.

The rare Republic editorial that is on the mark

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.

Voters like Congress better than the Arizona legislature

According to a June survey, the Arizona legislature is less popular than Congress. And when you look at it more closely it's even worse.

by Amy B Wang
The Arizona Republic

Two-thirds of Arizonans who participated in a research panel are dissatisfied with how the state Legislature is dealing with Arizona's budget and tax issues, according to a June report by the Morrison Institute.

Two-thirds is about 66%. In contrast, the current disapproval rating for Congress (which has never been very good, because Congress has been a favorite punching bag for people to blame things on for decades) is 60.8% in the current RCP polling average.

But it gets worse than that. Most of the polls in the RCP average are not just surveys of 'adults' but most are instead surveys of 'likely voters' (though some may split the difference and use 'registered voters.') This filters out people who may not really care very much and may not even care enough to bother to actually register or show up at the polls and vote.

However, the Arizona Republic article goes on to say:

Fewer than half of the respondents said they kept tabs on current public-policy processes, including news about the Arizona state budget.

When researchers narrowed it down to this group, the rate of those dissatisfied with state lawmakers jumped to 80 percent.

So among people who are actually paying attention, four out of five disapproved with the job the legislature was doing-- in June. The language may not have specifically said, 'likely voters' but it's an almost automatic assumption that the people who are paying attention to the legislature would probably be considered 'likely voters' with very few exceptions. So out of a group of voters likely to vote next year, the approval rating for the legislature was 20% (assuming that we generously count all those who don't 'disapprove' as 'approve' and so give the lege the assumed support of all those who say they have 'no opinion,' 'refuse to answer' or 'aren't sure'-- really, we're doing everything we can here to help them out.) Twenty percent approval is dangerously into 'throw the bums out' territory.

Ah, but that doesn't even tell the whole story. Note that this survey was taken during JUNE. June was the last month of the scheduled regular session. Likely the survey was taken after the June 4 budget vote which would have decimated schools and state agencies while giving away a quarter billion dollar tax cut, and during which relations between the Governor and the Republican leadership in the legislature got so bad that she went to court and sued them to try and get them to send her the budget so she could veto it. However, since then we've gotten no budget, had a full month of special session and still no budget (though some of the proposals we've seen are even worse than the June 4 budget.) I doubt if ANYONE thinks that the legislature is more popular (or even still is as popular) today compared to where it was in June.

Pity the poor legislators. I wonder what the state legislative GOP leaders would say if someone pointed out to them that more likely voters approve of the job that Nancy Pelosi's Congress is doing, than approve of the job they are doing.

Then again, earlier this year Congress was able to pass, and the President did sign, a budget.
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