Photo by Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic/USA Today Network | Pool photo
In the not-so-distant past (two years ago), Gov. Doug Ducey praised a budget that paid down the state’s debt, claiming “it’s the responsible thing to do.”
He also promised debt reduction would free up monies that could be used for “things that matter most” to Arizonans, “like K-12 education, enhancing public safety and updating our state’s infrastructure.”
But an unexpected budget surplus seems to have shifted the governor’s priorities. He’s currently working with Republican legislators on a budget focused on massive tax cuts for the state’s wealthiest households instead of one that pays down debt or invests in the “things that matter most” to Arizonans.
In a previous column, I detailed how Ducey’s flat tax proposal would decimate the budgets of cities and towns, effectively defunding public safety. It seems two Republican legislators agree and are withholding their votes on the budget until it lessens the harm to local governments.
But the revised budget proposals being floated still skimp on debt repayment as well as investments to address existing crises, such as the teacher shortage, or to avert new ones, like water shortages.
Right now, the state has approximately $7.6 billion in debt, which includes lease payments on state buildings sold off during the Great Recession as well as nearly $1 billion in delayed payments to schools.
But our debt is actually closer to $10 billion, since the earlier figure doesn’t include the $2 billion in unpaid school building construction costs and repairs. That amount is the subject of a lawsuit, one the state will almost certainly lose.
Wouldn’t paying down a large chunk of our debt and settling the school funding lawsuit be the prudent, fiscally conservative and morally responsible thing to do instead of permanently eliminating $1.9 billion in revenues via a tax giveaway for the wealthy?
Of course it would. But these days, Republicans don’t seem to care about debt or investments in programs that lead to long-term prosperity for our state and everyday Arizonans.
No, these days one cannot be a Republican unless he or she has fully embraced the radical ideology that there is nothing more important — more sacred — than tax cuts for the rich.
Not paying off debt. Not improving infrastructure or advancing public education. Not even addressing the climate crisis that could make our state uninhabitable.
Ducey called a special session of the legislature this week to deal with the wildfires burning across our state. He wants more money to fight the fires as well as money to reduce vegetation in areas where fires could erupt.
The importance of this special session highlights the recklessness of Ducey’s budget, which lacks long-term planning and funds for disasters already at our doorstep.
Because of a changing climate, our wildfires are predicted to get worse, not better. More costly, not less. We’re breaking records for heat and heat-related deaths, and our megadrought is drying up our water resources.
Just a few days ago, we learned the water levels at Lake Mead reached shortage levels, meaning Arizona will lose a significant chunk of its water allotment.
And it’s not just Colorado River water drying up.
Our groundwater, as well, is over-pumped, especially in rural areas where no rules on groundwater regulation exist. Water experts are sounding the alarm, begging state leaders to take immediate action on the issue before it’s too late.
But has that lit a fire under our legislators or governor? Has that caused them to consider the long-term costs of inaction and the importance of investing in solutions?
State Republicans are still talking about slashing billions in revenue even as they ignore the warning signs of climate change, foolishly kicking the can down the road on investments in technology, carbon-reducing strategies and conservation. They’re touting tax cuts for the wealthy even as they refuse to reimburse public schools for the $2 billion owed in capital funding. And they’re operating as if short-term surpluses will continue indefinitely, ignoring the recent history of economic downturns and the dangers of unsustainable tax cuts.
Wealthy Arizonans can survive and thrive without another tax giveaway. The same cannot be said for at-risk students lacking resources and teachers or for our communities should our wells and reservoirs run dry.
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