Earlier this legislative session, many state lawmakers grilled Charles Flanagan – who was then director of the Department of Child Safety – about why reports of child neglect are still going up. They pointed fingers, made speeches and issued statements about how important it is to protect child safety and reduce child abuse and neglect.
Then last week, 32 lawmakers in the House and 16 in the Senate voted yes on a state budget promoted by Governor Doug Ducey that is guaranteed to drive up child neglect.
Their budget does nothing to prevent child abuse and neglect. Instead, it puts more children in danger. It cuts safe and affordable child care, leaving children in dangerous and unstable situations when their parents go to work. It cuts cash assistance for the poorest mothers and children, leaving children vulnerable to hunger, homelessness and crisis. It cuts payments to health care providers, limiting access to acute care and behavioral health. It cuts school and community strategies to prevent mental health crises. It sweeps funds for housing assistance and treatment for children, stealing security from Arizona families.
These facts contradict Governor Ducey’s sound bites about protecting child safety. The budget signed Thursday by the governor leaves out $9 million for child safety caseload growth that was in Governor Ducey’s original budget and removes $11 million for the child safety case backlog – even though the backlog is now higher than ever.
In his State of the State speech, Governor Ducey said his priorities would be opportunity for all and student success in Arizona classrooms. But the budget enacts $250 million in cuts to neighborhood and charter schools, community colleges and universities. It is simply shameful for lawmakers to raise expectations for student success while they force schools to squeeze 30 to 40 students in a classroom and shrink resources for things like reading programs, speech therapists, computers, books, art, music, building maintenance, full-day kindergarten, and exceptional teachers.
Governor Ducey keeps churning out press statements bragging about his focus on education and pretending that money appropriated to pay for more students and higher costs counts as a new investment. But Arizonans know better. The college students, parents, grandparents, foster parents, and children marching at the Capitol and speaking up on social media have not been fooled. We see the lists of cuts in the budget that will truly shape the school days of our next generation – larger class sizes, growing teacher shortages, less technology, weaker infrastructure, fewer options for preschool and after school education.
In 2009, Arizona faced a sudden and dramatic drop in state revenues due to the Great Recession that demanded a crisis response. But today is different. This budget is not an answer to a short-term crisis. It is the foundation for a long-term path to build more prison cells while shutting more people out of a college education. It is a path to skyrocketing growth in state tax credits for private school students while shrinking dollars for students in the public schools. It is a path to growing tax breaks for rich corporations while cutting basic tools to help parents and children succeed.
Governor Ducey and many legislators are making proud pronouncements about their priority to get the state budget into structural balance. But these same lawmakers have acted repeatedly to destroy that balance by voting for new and bigger tax cuts. More than one-third of the projected budget gap between revenues and expenses for next fiscal year is because of tax cuts passed since the Great Recession began. That $376 million in wiped out revenues would have been enough to avoid all of the new cuts to K-12 and higher education, the cuts to child safety and economic security, and the cuts to our health care system.
New tax cuts are still being phased in and this week legislators are still voting yes on even more tax cuts, digging a deeper and deeper deficit for the coming years. When child neglect reports rise, when the child safety case backlog grows higher, when education gets put back on the chopping block, these lawmakers can look in the mirror to find who is responsible.
Now is the time for a long-term fiscal plan that matches voter priorities for education, health care, and jobs:
• Stop shrinking the tax base and growing the deficit.
• Improve on strategies from both red and blue states to slow the growth in prisons and reduce crime at the same time.
• Close loopholes and update our tax policies to be fair to middle class families and raise revenues for education, infrastructure, and families.
• Bring more accountability and predictability to tax credits.
• Restore resources to public schools so that more children across our state can grow up to reach their dreams.
— Dana Wolfe Naimark is president and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance