Based on Senator Burn’s recent editorial in The Arizona Republic (“Conservative Calls for Sales-Tax Hike”) it is apparent that we need to look to other leaders for solutions to our budget challenges. Burns labors mightily to create the impression that everything that could possibly be done to stem the tide of red ink has been done. This is false.
Are we to believe that state government can’t get by with significantly less than the current spending level? Less than a decade ago the state’s budget was approximately 40 percent lower. Were things so bad then that a return to a similar outlay would be such a horrible fate? State government spending in recent years has grown twice as fast as the combination of population and inflation.
Why does the cost of government rise so much faster? There are several factors but one of them is that government employees simply do not respond to the same incentives that exist in the private sector. Consequently, there are inherent inefficiencies. The lack of significant distinction between good performers and under performers in a bureaucratic system undermines morale. If we reduced the size of government to its proper role of defending our liberty, government employees would feel a greater sense of satisfaction in their jobs and would perform more efficiently. Many programs simply need to be moved into the private sector.
There are numerous sources for specific ideas in making these kinds of moves. The Goldwater Institute, for example, outlined a billion dollars worth of cuts to outmoded and unnecessary tasks that could be made to the state budget. One simple but effective approach would be to furlough state employees one day per week. My prediction is that all needed work would still get done.
The way I characterize the direction we should move is toward liberty. This means something different in each area of government. In education it means moving toward parental choice and dismantling the bureaucratic district system. Schools should be funded directly or, better yet, the children funded directly through a voucher system. At the post-secondary level we should stop taxpayer funding of professional programs. Do we really need taxpayers paying for more lawyers?
Another huge budget area is transportation. Moving toward liberty essentially means more privatization. We should be building more private roads and toll roads. We should consider abandoning roads that do not pay for themselves through the various transportation taxes and letting local jurisdictions decide if they want to maintain them. Because of advances in technology, ideas such as time-of-use pricing and high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes are more practical.
Another major expense is government regulation. We have too many regulatory agencies that cost money to run and also burden the economy. One example is occupational licensing. Why should anyone have to ask the permission of state government to pursue a profession? These agencies should be abolished, along with agencies that are inherently private-sector functions such as the Departments of Commerce and Tourism.
Finally, the belief that putting a tax increase on the ballot is a viable solution is a pipe dream. There isn’t a prayer that voters would approve it. Even Senator Burns admits that the revenue from such a tax would cover less than a third of the state’s structural budget deficit.
An honest assessment shows that substantial opportunities to improve the return on taxpayer dollars spent by state government exist. Real leaders would roll up their sleeves and make use of these opportunities rather than signing on to the idea that we ought to squeeze more out of taxpayers in order to continue to finance the deficiencies of state government.
-Roy Miller is a Phoenix resident who was a founder of the Goldwater Institute.