The state legislature in Arizona has taken an axe to education funding and vital social programs, cutting $1.1 billion in spending. The cuts are part of an effort to fill the $2.6 billion fiscal year 2011 budget deficit. These cuts will have disastrous consequences for hundreds of thousands of poor and working class residents of Arizona almost immediately.
The budget plan puts an end to KidsCare, a children’s healthcare program that provides services to 47,000 low-income children throughout the state. Additionally, $385 million has been cut from the state Medicaid program, forcing 310,000 adults to be removed from state health coverage next January.
With the new budget plan, most state employees will have their wages cut by 5 percent. These new wage cuts will come partly through unpaid furlough days.
Public education in Arizona has also been put on the chopping block, with hundreds of millions in cuts to K-12 as well as higher education. $218 million has been slashed from kindergarten funding, causing schools to revert to half-days for kindergartners. Over the past two years, more than $100 million has been cut from higher education, forcing steep rises in tuition and fees.
A preliminary plan to force tuition hikes at the three state universities was adopted on the same days as the budget by the Arizona Board of Regents.
At Arizona State University, new students will see tuition and fees jump by 18.8 percent, or $1,288. At the University of Arizona, all undergraduates will face an increase of 20.4 percent, or $1,403. And new students at Northern Arizona University will have an increase of 15.7 percent, or $1,040.
On top of these across-the-board cuts, students in particular majors and programs will be required to pay additional “differential” tuition and fees. For example, fees for architecture students at the University of Arizona will be increased by $150 to $900.
Many of these cuts contained in the budget will likely be deepened over the year. Legislators drafted the budget taking for granted that voters of Arizona will approve three cost cutting or revenue raising initiatives on ballots this year.
The first of which will be the proposed 1 percent sales tax increase supported by Republican Governor Jan Brewer that will appear on the May 18 ballot. Brewer stated, “We are so far in the hole…that if we want any kind of quality life and to assure our future, there is absolutely no other way” than passing the sales tax increase. The increase is meant to be only temporary, expiring at the end of May 2013 and is expected to raise $1 billion in revenue, two thirds of which would be for education, while the remaining third would fund public safety, health care and human services.
Should the sales tax increase be rejected, the state will implement additional cuts of $867 million, primarily on education. Legislators estimate over $100 million in cuts to higher education would result, forcing the regents to look for another tuition increase as well as additional cuts to employee salaries, funding for research programs and financial aid.
K-12 education would receive the bulk of the remainder of the cuts, threatening the devastation of the Arizona public education system, which already ranks near the bottom in per-pupil funding for all states. By some estimates, 15-20 percent of all teaching positions could be eliminated if the sales tax increase does not pass.
Another program being put to the vote on the November ballot is the First Things First program for children, which was approved by voters in 2006. First Things First focuses on early healthcare and education in children ages 1-5. Voters will be forced to choose between completely eliminating the First Things First program by redirecting the approximately $325 million in tobacco tax revenue that is collected for this purpose into the general fund, or ultimately facing cuts to other vital services.
The third program that could be cut is the Growing Smart land conservation project. If voters vote to eliminate the funding, the program would remain in existence, however without any funding.
The effects of these devastating cuts will be multiplied by the fact that Arizona’s housing market has been in crisis for some time, with no sign of improvement, and unemployment is rising. Housing prices in the Phoenix metro area have dropped by 50 percent or more, and in many cases homeowners are choosing to walk away from their homes rather than pay mortgages that equal much more than their home is worth. The official unemployment rate in Arizona stands at 9.7 percent, while many public sector workers have had their hours reduced and many state jobs have been eliminated due to the fiscal crisis.
One thing is clear from the legislators’ approach to the budget, they, like the Obama Administration and the legislators in Washington, are intent on making the poor and working class pay for the current economic crisis. Many express a similar attitude to that of state Republican House Speaker Kirk Adams, who acknowledged that the cuts were difficult, but necessary; or Governor Brewer, who proclaims about the proposed sales tax increase that there is “no other way.”
Democrats, who in large part voted against the cuts out of fear of a popular backlash, didn’t oppose the cuts per se but only the manner in which they were carried out. Democrats would rather have seen funding slashed from these programs without their outright elimination. When it comes down to it, however, the defunding of public education and health care amounts to the deliberate crippling of these fundamental social programs.
Working people in Arizona are being held hostage by the legislators; they are being forced to choose which programs are to be cut—many of which will be cut eventually anyhow—and forced to choose between regressive taxes or the elimination of vital services. Working people should reject the entire premise of the budget discussion.
Workers and students across the nation protested tuition hikes and cuts to education on March 4, many with the understanding that these attacks on education are only a part of the broader attack on the living standards and well-being of working people everywhere. The financial elite, through the Obama Administration and the legislatures of every state, are intent on making the working class pay to ensure that profits stay private and losses are absorbed by all.
The fight against the attacks on working people in Arizona cannot be waged on the terms of the state legislature, who speak with one voice about the need for “fiscal responsibility” and the need to cut spending. What they mean is that the working class needs to be held responsible, and that programs that benefit them must be cut, while the financial elite must be free from responsibility and free to profit.
95 comments by Mary Jo Pitzl - Apr. 2, 2011 12:00 AM
The 2012 Arizona budget, heavy with cuts but light on gimmicks, will make a lasting imprint on residents, services and the economy, both advocates and critics say.
For supporters, especially the Republican majority in the Legislature, the fiscal 2012 budget is a major step toward ending the state's recent cycle of ongoing deficits and debt financing. It puts the budget on stable footing and will open a new, positive chapter for Arizona's economy, they say.
But critics, from city and county officials to parents and advocates for the poor, say the budget's $1.1 billion in cuts and shifts to local governments will write a sad sequel to several years of belt-tightening in the state.
The Legislature gave final approval Friday to an $8.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It's on its way to Gov. Jan Brewer, who is expected to sign it next week.
The House passed the budget early Friday, capping nearly 17 hours of on-again, off-again work that dragged on overnight. The Senate followed nine hours later.
Republicans cast the vote as a turning point for Arizona's fiscal fortunes.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that Arizona has turned the page," said Rep. Ted Vogt, R-Tucson.
But Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, saw it differently.
"If you're turning a new page today, I guess we're turning from a scary story to a horrible nightmare," Patterson said.
The budget contains $1.1 billion in spending cuts, doubling in one year the reductions Brewer has overseen through three budget cycles.
For the first time in years, it contains no new borrowing. It does not raise taxes.
It cuts deeply into the state's Medicaid program but restores funding for medical transplants - a point Democrats heatedly dispute. Despite claims that it has no accounting gimmicks to meet the constitutional obligation to balance the budget, it defers $313 million in payments to the universities and the Medicaid program and pushes costs for programs ranging from Highway Patrol to the parks onto local governments.
Brewer has until the end of next week to sign the budget, veto it, let it go into law without her signature or line-item veto certain items. But given her key role in negotiating it, her signature is expected.
Republicans, alarmed by a $3.8 billion debt load, were intent on balancing the state's budget without any additional borrowing.
That, plus the spending cuts, will put Arizona's fiscal house in order, said Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, the Legislature's most ardent budget hawk.
Calling Friday the "day of reckoning," Gould said, "If we don't do this, our economy is going to crash."
In his seventh year at the Senate, it was the first time Gould has voted "yes" on a budget.
Economist Jim Rounds said a budget that is balanced without borrowing, tax hikes or gimmicks will put the state on a sound course. But it's only the first step: The state also must be mindful of supporting agencies that help the economy grow, such as higher education and tourism, he said.
"Having your fiscal house in order is a minimum criteria for economic recovery," said Rounds, senior vice president with Elliott D. Pollack and Co. "If we don't have a balanced budget, it sends a signal that there is an uncertainty about the state."
Local governments will pick up some of the tab for state operations ranging from the Motor Vehicle Division to the state hospital, a cost shift that critics say undercuts the claim the budget is gimmick-free.
"They simply passed onto us what inevitably is going to translate into property-tax increases," said Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, a Mesa Republican. "That's not conservative Republicanism. That's not limited government.
"Governor Brewer - who has been a Maricopa County supervisor - promised us she would not let this happen. I would hope she would keep her promise."
Brewer's spokesman, Matthew Benson, said the governor fought for the counties and is sensitive to the impact on local government. But, ultimately, he said, the budget is a negotiated deal.
County governments, particularly the most populous five, will bear the brunt of the costs. The budget doubles county contributions for housing certain mentally ill patients at the state hospital, at a cost of about $2.75 million. It also shifts some of the counties' share of gas-tax and car-registration fees to the state general fund. The money will help pay for the state Department of Public Safety and the Motor Vehicle Division. There is a similar requirement for cities to do the same, with the money helping support MVD.
On top of that, the budget requires Maricopa, Pima, Pinal, Mohave and Yavapai counties to make a combined $38 million "contribution" to the general fund. Counties see it more as extortion. Lawmakers delayed until July 2012 a controversial provision to require county jails to house anyone sentenced to a year or less in prison, instead of sending them to state prisons.
Arizona's cities also will chip in by sending a collective $7 million to help fund the state Department of Water Resources.
Phoenix, which will have to provide $2 million of that total, is contemplating adding a line to city water and sewer bills labeled "state assessment," said Karen Peters, the city's lobbyist. It would lead to higher bills, she said, but the explanation would make it clear the increase is due to a state mandate, not city actions.
State services for low-income Arizonans have narrowed over the past three years.
Beginning July 1, the state subsidy for child-care fees goes away, for a savings of $13.8 million, but also a loss of $40 million in matching federal dollars.
That means working-poor families that include 13,300 children will lose help paying for child care, said Bruce Liggett, executive director for the Arizona Child Care Association.
The impact goes beyond low-income families, who will have to find other ways to pay for child care or leave their jobs, he said. An estimated 1,600 child-care workers will lose their jobs, and Liggett predicted that dozens of centers will close.
"This is going to be the last straw for many, many providers who take care of low-income families," Liggett said.
Lawmakers also reduced cash assistance to poor families raising children, cutting the current 36 months of aid to 24 months. That will save $8.6 million and affect about 3,500 families with 6,500 children.
Half of the budget cuts, or $510 million, come from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, primarily by freezing enrollment of childless adults in the Medicaid program.
Hospitals have been bracing for the cuts while fiercely lobbying for an alternative plan that would tax their revenues and draw down more federal funding.
Betsey Bayless, CEO for Maricopa Integrated Health Systems, said eliminating health care for most of the childless-adult population will be devastating for Maricopa Medical Center and other safety-net hospitals.
"There's no question that this budget is going to hurt the health-care industry very badly," she said.
Ann Rider, CEO of Recovery Empowerment Network, said AHCCCS enrollees are "absolutely terrified."
"There's a lot of confusion and a lot of fear," Rider said. "People are starting to feel a little bit hopeless. It just keeps getting worse and worse, and nothing we say makes any difference."
From kindergarten through community colleges to universities, the plan cuts education budgets by about $450 million.
Already, the three public universities are considering increases that would bring tuition and fees to nearly $10,000 a year.
The universities are taking a $198 million cut.
The community colleges are losing most of their state support, which officials fear will force them to raise local property taxes to make up the difference.
The public K-12 system is losing $148 million, lawmakers say; Brewer's number is slightly lower at $133 million. The governor and the Legislature used different estimates on student enrollment next year. Educators say it continues a string of cuts that have led to larger class sizes and demoralized teachers.
In the Phoenix Elementary School District in central Phoenix, the student count is up, said Ruth Ann Marston, the school board's president.
"We're not serving them as well because our people are so very tired," she said. "Their morale is very low."
She said some classes have already hit the district's upper limit on size: 38 students to one teacher.
"We're stretching everyone to the point that there is a lot of concern," she said.
Republic reporters Mary K. Reinhart and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez contributed to this article.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2011/04/02/20110402arizona-lawmakers-approve-budget-cuts.html#ixzz1fyWeoJbh