Just like all Arizonans, Democrats are frustrated with the total lack of leadership during this budget crisis. It is ludicrous that the Legislature has had seven months to pass a budget and still can’t get the job done.
This kind of behavior is unacceptable; as the special session goes on, critical public safety and health care programs still have no budget during the biggest economic shortfall of our lifetime.
The worst part of all of this is that Gov. Jan Brewer and Republicans could have solved this problem by working with Democrats from the beginning. Instead, they negotiated behind closed doors, breaking their promise of openness and transparency and fought among themselves all the way to the state Supreme Court a week before the budget deadline.
Taxpayers wanted a balanced budget that protects education and jobs and builds a better economy. But in the middle of the night on June 30, Republican lawmakers and Governor Brewer still couldn’t get the job done. Throughout the legislative session, they had refused to work in a bipartisan way with Democratic lawmakers to solve the problem, which is necessary in a crisis like this.
Past deadline, the fighting continued – Republican lawmakers passed a destructive budget to education and Brewer vetoed it, violating the federal stimulus act and leaving the state without any funding.
Still no budget.
Finally, on July 6, the first day of a special session to fix the budget mess, Republicans realized the need to work with Democrats to protect education. Together, Democrats and Republicans passed a bipartisan bill to fund education and to save federal stimulus money.
We continued to work with our colleagues on the budget in July, hoping to forge a bipartisan path to a stronger Arizona. The bipartisan talks were progressing well and we had narrowed a $3.5 billion shortfall to about a $500 million gap that we still needed to resolve. Democrats planned to make more cuts, and Republicans said they would see where they could increase revenue to meet in the middle.
But Republicans unexpectedly deserted bipartisan talks with Democrats on July 28 in favor of working with Governor Brewer on a separate, partisan budget deal. That deal, a bad one, refers a temporary sales tax increase to the ballot, costing the average Arizona family an extra $438 a year, but affording $400 million in permanent tax cuts to big corporations and the wealthy. It puts a cap on funding for education and health care, while asking voters to reconsider the Voter Protection Act, which helps fund things like schools and vital services for the elderly and the disabled.
Their budget failed once again on July 30 without enough votes in the Senate to pass.
Republican lawmakers also dangerously rushed hundreds of bills through the Legislature at the last minute, lacking careful and important oversight.
None of it gives Arizonans what they want – a better economy, jobs and education.
Meanwhile, Democrats stand ready and willing to negotiate a comprehensive and bipartisan budget solution because we know that is the best solution for Arizona.
After holding at least 20 public budget hearings statewide, Democrats developed two responsible comprehensive budget solutions that protect middle-class families, jobs and education, while providing long-term, stable revenue solutions. To see a common-sense, responsible budget solution, please visit www.strongerarizona.com.
As Governor Brewer said, the budget deficit isn’t a Republican problem, and it’s not a Democratic problem. It is everyone’s problem.
That’s why I believe, as I have since the beginning of the session, that Governor Brewer, Republicans and Democrats need to work together to build a better, bipartisan budget for a stronger Arizona.
Democrats have urged Brewer for the past seven months to call all five parties – House and Senate Democrats and Republicans and Brewer – to the table to solve Arizona’s budget crisis, including creating a stable state revenue system, but Brewer has refused and continues to refuse to do that.
Due to this disappointing and deplorable lack of leadership, Arizona is still in this budget mess. What that means for Arizonans is that vital services for middle-class families, schools, children, the disabled and seniors still hang in the balance.
Bottom line: we need to pass a budget. In order for our state to succeed, we must stabilize revenue, protect schools and vital services and turn the economy around.
There is an obvious path to a responsible and comprehensive budget solution. And, as always, Democrats stand ready to walk down that bipartisan path for a stronger Arizona.
The budget deficit is a lot bigger than political games – it’s about kids getting a quality education, parents keeping their jobs and a paving the way to a brighter future for our state.
To do that, we must work together.
- David Lujan, a Democrat from District 15 in Phoenix, is minority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives.