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Responsible budget puts Arizona on right track

Scot Mussi

Scot Mussi

Every election, it seems, politicians give lip service to the need for fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget. But once they are in office, they lack the courage and resolve to actually achieve one. It’s always politically more convenient to spend more than we take in, hide growing debt and liabilities through clever accounting tricks, and leave the consequences for someone else to clean up down the road.

But not this time.

In November, voters sent a clear mandate that they wanted to restore fiscal sanity to Arizona government. They demanded that our leaders take on the looming budget crisis, show some accountability and get Arizona’s fiscal house in order. Last week, Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature accomplished just that.

Arizona was grappling with how to deal with a budget deficit of $520 million this fiscal year, and as much as $1 billion shortfall in 2016. No more. The recently passed budget eliminates Arizona’s structural deficit completely by 2017. There are no tax increases to slow down economic recovery, and the budget actually increases K-12 spending while directing more funding toward the classroom – making sure our education dollars are spent where they are needed most. It’s no wonder why Arizona remains highly competitive in attracting new businesses to the state.

Just as important is how fiscal responsibility was achieved. For years, Arizona’s annual budget has been strung together by a series of stopgap measures, accounting gimmicks, and fund sweeps of questionable constitutionality. But those gimmicks ended this year, and Arizona is now living within its means for the first time in more than a decade.

Overall the Ducey budget reduced government spending by 2.3 percent. In addition to spending cuts, meaningful savings were achieved through common sense government reforms, such as consolidating state agencies. For example, merging the Arizona Department of Racing into the Department of Gaming has been long overdue and eliminates multiple overlapping and redundant expenses.

The budget included tax relief as well. In addition to indexing our income tax brackets to inflation, the approved package reduced taxes on small business by eliminating the job training tax. All Arizona employers are subject to the tax, which is applied to the first $7,000 in wages paid to each employee. The revenue generated by the tax goes into the “Job Training” fund, which is administered by the Arizona Commerce Authority and is primarily used by a few large companies to help subsidize their job training activities. So not only did the budget reduce the tax burden on small business, but it ended a crony capitalist program in the process.

In just his third month in office, Governor Ducey was able to produce a balanced budget that protected taxpayers, put more money into the classroom and shrunk the size of government. By any measure, this was a great start to his administration and a great week for Arizona.

— Scot Mussi is president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club.

3 comments

  1. Arizonans disagree with you. You can’t disguise $250 million in cuts to education as some how a benefit Arizona’s children. Especially when this “structural deficit” is the direct result of the 2011 tax giveaway to corporations.

    And if those tax cuts are making Arizona “so attractive” to companies, why is Arizona lagging so far behind in the post-recovery job growth? Because companies are looking for an educated work force, and want to attract quality employees, who want to live in a state with good schools – not more prisons.

    The “fiscal sanity” you promote is also cutting millions from CPS and programs to help the most at-risk children in Arizona, children who live in hunger and unsafe conditions.

    So I must ask you: is it sane to balance your tax cuts on the backs of the most voiceless and vulnerable children in our state?

  2. Arizonans disagree with you. You can’t disguise $250 million in cuts to education as some how a benefit Arizona’s children. Especially when this “structural deficit” is the direct result of the 2011 tax giveaway to corporations.

    The “fiscal sanity” you promote is also cutting millions from CPS and programs to help the most at-risk children in Arizona, children who live in hunger and unsafe conditions.

    So I must ask you: is it sane to balance your tax cuts on the backs of the most voiceless and vulnerable children in our state?

  3. With all due respect, Mr. Mussi, what blindfold are you wearing? What ear plugs are preventing you from hearing? And does your nose not have the ability to smell?
    Can you see the many reports that show Arizona’s public education system funded anywhere from 46th to 49th in the nation, depending on which report you read? And, even if it’s 46th, we should be ashamed of such a record! At the same time, the very legislators who are depriving our children and taxpayers of the benefits of a well-funded education are taking away more funding every year. I think the worst part of this is that they are actually lying to us, saying they are adding to the education budget when a clear analysis shows the opposite.
    Do you not hear the outcry of parents, teachers and other staff, administrators and taxpayers to restore the funding that voters approved for education in 2010? And did the offer by schools to settle the pending lawsuit at a significant reduction to what the state really owes education fall on deaf ears?
    Does the fact that several of Arizona’s elected officials are intricately involved with, and benefit directly from legislation that appropriates more money to charter schools than neighborhood public schools not smell bad to you?
    I don’t know of anyone, regardless of party affiliation, who doesn’t want the state to balance its budget. And I, along with many others, appreciate the fact that our lawmakers only have so much money to deal with. But why do they have the right to defy a law that we voters approved and that a judge has ruled upon, one more time, just to validate its legality? And why do they (and you) conveniently ignore the polls that clearly show that the majority of Arizonans, who typically defy all tax increases, are actually willing to have their own taxes raised to support public education?
    You sound like a reasonable and well-educated man. Please examine the shell game that the Governor and legislators are playing with education funding. Meet with your local school superintendent and school business manager. Ask them to show you how this budget really affects the children of your district, the children of our state and, indeed, the ability of our state to compete with other states in attracting teachers who need a living wage to do what they love every day. The very ability of Arizona to attract residents, quality teachers, businesses and industries is passing from the “Not Likely Zone” to the completely bright red, “Danger, Stay-Away Zone.”
    Do you have children of your own? Do they attend their local neighborhood public school? Do they attend a charter school? Do they attend a private school? Do you see differences in what these schools offer children? What they are required to offer? What they may choose not to offer, depending on whether they are truly public or charter or private? Do you see that all except your neighborhood public school can cherry pick its students, avoiding paying for expensive programs like special education, the fine arts and extra-curricular activities? And do you know how much these important programs and services really cost to provide to the students who want, need and deserve them? Do you know how many unfunded mandates for education exist in Arizona? Read some reports; ask questions; listen to what voters are saying; give this budget the Smell Test.
    Please get the facts, Mr. Mussi, and use your obvious intellect and probable networking and other resources to be part of the solution, not someone who chooses not to see, hear or smell what is happening to public education in our state. Help us save it, before it is too late.

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