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.