Arizona voters will know the impact of their decision when they cast ballots in a May 18 special election on a proposed temporary sales tax increase to help balance the next state budget, Republican legislative leaders said Feb. 22.
The leaders said they’ve decided that a Republican legislative budget proposal being prepared for release next week will include two spending levels – one for if the sales tax increase is approved and one for if it is rejected. That’s a swing of about $900 million.
“We think the only fair thing is to have the people know exactly what they’re voting for when it comes down to it,” said Senate President Bob Burns. “If you vote in opposition to the increase in revenue, then you need to accept that there needs to be reductions.”
Burns and House Majority Leader John McComish said approval of a contingency budget also means legislators wouldn’t have to return to work after the May 18 election to make changes depending on the tax increase’s fate.
“Truthfully, I think we can do a better job of that now than we could if we had to come back in June,” McComish said. “Because of the political realities of campaigns and elections … what I would fear is that we would be stymied.”
The state faces a shortfall of at least $2.6 billion on projected spending of $9.5 billion in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Gov. Jan Brewer proposed the three-year, 1-cent increase to help the state close budget shortfalls, along with spending cuts, borrowing and federal stimulus money.
Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the governor was “supportive in concept” of a contingency budget “as long as it’s a well thought out plan to deal with the repercussions as pragmatically as possible.”
Repercussions of rejecting the sales tax increase “would be horribly difficult,” Senseman added.
A veteran Democratic legislator said the Republicans’ plan for contingency spending levels in the Republicans’ proposed budget makes sense.
The contents of the budget are “going to be a problem, but I don’t see a problem with the procedure,” said Rep. Phil Lopes of Tucson. “I don’t think that we have a lot of other options because we’re not going to know the outcome of the sales tax until (May 18).”
Burns and McComish declined to discuss details of the Republican legislative budget proposal, but they and other lawmakers have said it is largely based on Brewer’s own budget proposal.
Brewer anticipated additional revenue from the sales tax increase in the next fiscal year but still proposed spending cuts throughout state government, including 5 percent pay cuts for most state employees as early as April 1 and removal of 310,000 people from the state’s Medicaid program on Jan. 1.
She also proposed ending state funding for all-day kindergarten, abolishing the KidsCare health care program, closing most state parks and eliminating the Juvenile Corrections Department – resulting in nearly 1,000 layoffs and sending 400 offenders to county facilities.
Those cuts would be on top of reductions already approved. They’ve resulted in closures of motor vehicle division offices and highway rest areas, layoffs of more than 2,000 state workers and sweeping reductions in social programs.