Arizona outspent all but one state on police protection and corrections as a percentage of overall state and local expenditures while its education spending ranked 38th in U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday (Sept. 30).
“You get what you pay for,” said Jeffrey Chapman, Arizona State University Foundation Professor of Applied Public Finance. “We’re a low-tax, low-expenditure state. We like police, we like corrections and we don’t want to spend money on public services.”
The census data, based on 2007 expenditures, shows that Arizona’s spending patterns remained fairly constant from previous years. Chapman said that demonstrates shortsightedness on the part of leaders, promoting construction and industries tied to growth and preparing people to work in those jobs.
“They’d rather see retail clerks, construction workers and corrections officers in Arizona,” Chapman said. “They’re giving no regard to our children or our grandchildren.”
The data also showed that Arizona ranked fourth among states in expenditures on fire protection, 22nd on public welfare and 30th on highways.
House Appropriations Chairman Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, defended the state’s spending on police protection, which was second only to Nevada, and on corrections, which was second only to California.
“Of course we spend more proportionally on law enforcement than other states,” Kavanagh said. “We have to be tough with criminals, as a matter of justice and deterrence. And being a border state, we deal with cross-border crime and we have one of the largest populations of illegal aliens.”
Kavanagh also said it’s wrong to suggest that Arizona isn’t committed to education.
“We actually have a very median educational performance record,” he said. “I prefer to judge our educational system by performance, not spending.”
Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, said Arizona would be better served by shifting its priorities.
“For four years I’ve been trying to change this,” she said. “And I think the public is unfamiliar with these numbers, so I’m glad to hear that they’re being talked about.”
Roger Hartley, associate professor of public administration and policy at the University of Arizona, said the money states spend on education correlates with earning potential, while poverty correlates with crime.
“We can see that we’re putting more money into putting people in prison rather than educating and thereby keeping people out of prison,” he said.Kavanagh called that conclusion overreaching, and pointed to Washington, D.C., as evidence.”
They have one of the worst crime rates, and they spend more than just about anybody per student,” he said.
Travis Pratt, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at ASU, said crime rates aren’t simple enough to link one-on-one with education, but he said it would be wrong to dismiss any connection with education.
He said spending on law enforcement pays political dividends much sooner than education.
“Budgets aren’t limitless, and Arizona devotes a greater portion of theirs to controlling rather than preventing crime,” he said. “And because spending on institutions like education and social services might not pay off for 10 or 15 years – not before the next election – politicians don’t see a reason for it.”