Republican legislative leaders on Friday called for budget-troubled Arizona to shrink its state government and the services it provides, with one bemoaning an “entitlement mentality.”
Closing shortfalls in the current and next state budgets requires scaling back government while having individuals accept more responsibility for their well-being, incoming Senate President Russell Pearce said.
The Mesa Republican who has identified himself with the tea party told an Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry audience Friday that he supports charity, but by individuals, not through what he called “force of government.”
Said Pearce: “We’ve become this entitlement mentality, a welfare state.”
House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, said creating a “safe, free and prosperous” Arizona means lightening the role of government and having Arizonans “finally assume responsibility for our own destiny.”
“That will require us to reawaken that rugged Arizona individualism … that has been passed down to us by our forefathers,” he said.
Both Pearce and Adams called for reduced government regulation of business, but neither mentioned specific services and programs that should be eliminated or reduced.
They and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, however, have said the state cannot afford to keep its Medicaid enrollment at current levels of roughly one in five Arizonans.
The chamber on Friday released a list of the lobbying organization’s own priorities, saying slashing the Medicaid program to balance the budget would mean more Arizonans lacking health insurance, sacrificing federal matching dollars and burdening hospitals and their emergency rooms.
Brewer sounded similar themes to those voiced by Adams and Pearce when she addressed the chamber audience earlier, calling for a leaner state government that is more responsible and more frugal.
“Gone are the days of the open checkbook where every feel-good project and program were funded,” said Brewer, who replaced Democrat Janet Napolitano in the governor’s office two years ago.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said the state shouldn’t shift the burdens of health care to individuals and businesses, while Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, said the Legislature should use a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, to balance the budget.
Arizona needs to fund both education and health care, Campbell said.
Brewer told the chamber audience that she would present lawmakers with proposals for business tax breaks and other ideas to bolster the state’s economic development efforts.
Brewer, who will deliver her State of the State address to the Legislature on Monday, said her wish list includes new tax breaks for businesses that create high-paying jobs, a reduction in corporate income taxes and the creation of a fund to help pay for business relocation deals.
Brewer said transforming the existing Arizona Commerce Department into a quasi-private authority focused on economic development is the “bedrock” of her strategy.
Some of those elements have been discussed but Brewer promised to unveil more of her plan during her address.