Friday, September 04, 2009

Jan Brewer's glass house

Governor Jan Brewer has signed most of the budget, according to reports out today. She vetoed the repeal of the state property tax and at least for the moment plans to use the revenue it generates (a quarter billion a year) to plug holes still left in the budget and restore some funding to education and state services. She blamed 'a few Republicans and Democratic extremists'.

This sentence makes no sense at all. Democrats were locked completely out of the negotiations for almost eight months, including a spate in which they were told that they were really negotiating with Republicans (who were in fact actually secretly negotiating with the Governor behind closed doors) in a ploy that even Robert Robb agreed that the Democrats were negotiated with in bad faith. And even a couple of weeks ago when Democrats were allowed into the budget negotiations they were essentially told that the budget was a done deal and they could tinker around the edges in exchange for passing her sales-tax ballot initiative, most of which would go to backfill tax cuts including the property tax cut.)

It is true that the reason we got to the point that we did had a lot to do with the Governor's lack of leadership. I mean, let's face it-- Janet had far deeper disagreements with the same bunch of morons in the legislature and they always got the budget done.

You can't just blame the economy either. Many states have had a terrible economy and correspondingly tough choices to deal with in terms of the budget. For a long time, the spotlight was on California in particular. But it's been a month since the legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar got a budget agreement hashed out.

You can blame Arizona's tax structure to a degree. In 1992 the voters passed a 'supermajority' requirement to raise taxes. This means that the legislature can only raise taxes with a 2/3 vote of both houses of the legislature plus the Governor's signature (and if the increase met a gubernatorial veto it would require an even larger supermajority to override.) Note, by the way, that California has the same requirement since the notorious 'prop 13' vote of 1978 (yes, another good conservative idea). This means that it is virtually impossible for the legislature to raise taxes, and they have never done so since then. What they have done since then, however is to cut taxes massively. For example, in the mid 1990's we had billions of dollars worth of tax cuts enacted under then-Governor Fife Symington. And to get them through the Senate he needed the help of then Senate majority whip Jan Brewer (!!)

That's right. A huge part of why we are in the budgetary toilet we are in is precisely because, after disabling the mechanism to back up on tax cuts, our legislature in the 1990's went full speed ahead. And like a driver who starts down a road which becomes a trail and eventually a stream bed that is too narrow to turn around, Arizona has gotten into a budget pickle because in the full knowledge that the tax cuts could not be reversed the legislature chose during the times of relative prosperity to cut taxes virtually every year, not adequately fund the 'rainy day fund' (in case you're wondering it ran dry earlier this year just balancing the 2009 budget) and assume that the booming economy would continue forever. Taxes were cut so that schools, state services and other areas which were left to subsist on a shoestring budget even when times were good, had to make massive cuts this year which resulted in everything from teacher layoffs (making Arizona's class sizes, already among the worst in the country, even worse) to literally putting the state capitol building up for bid and committing ourselves to paying rent on it in the future -- and in a year when the commercial real estate market is at rock bottom so we won't even get much for it.

I will say this though-- Republicans have always been for tax cuts and 'smaller government.' So they did what they said they would. What this also shows is the hazard of electing the same party to be the majority party in the legislature for decades. In particular, since the 1992 referendum, we've had Republican governors for 11 out of 17 years and the GOP has controlled both houses of the legislature for all of that time except for a two year stint in which the senate was split 15-15 and still elected a Republican leader.

The return of the state equalization property tax, which was suspended for three years by a 2006 agreement and will return because the Governor had little choice but to veto its permanent repeal, is a small restitution of the revenue that was lost to the yearly reckless and deep tax cuts the legislature voted for every year for at least a decade. As both a parent and a homeowner I look forward to paying it this year because of how badly the revenue will be needed, but I know how inadequate a step that will be toward restoring the quality of our schools and other institutions that will take years to fix even if we get someone better in charge than the collection of incompetents running the state now.

And if Jan Brewer wants to blame someone, perhaps she should go back a few years. And look in the mirror. Because she was right in the middle, as senate majority whip, helping drive the car down that one way path to fiscal damnation.


David said...

Jan Brewer could have avoided the whole mess if she'd just sat down with all the leaders in both parties in January.

What do we pay them to stay down there for the first seven months for, if they don't even get serious until August?

If they do this bad of a job next year I will refuse to vote for anyone currently in the legislature (or the Governor) for any state office, of any kind. Already, I consider being a member of the legislature to be a very negative mark against a candidate next year.

Eli Blake said...


I understand your sentiments, but keep in mind that almost half the legislature-- Democrats-- were not even seriously consulted until mid-August.