The Arizona Republic
April 28, 2003 Monday Final chaser Edition
SECTION: OPINIONS; My Turn; Pg. 9B
HEADLINE: BUDGET HINGES ON FAMILY ISSUES
BYLINE: Janet Napolitano
Legislative leaders have worked to produce a revised budget plan and I applaud their efforts. Restoration of some of the draconian cuts contained within the previous budget is a step in the right direction.
Nonetheless, there is still work to be done. The revised budget proposal cuts too deeply into education, vital services for families and economic development. We can balance our budget without these cuts and in so doing position Arizona for a prosperous future.
Here are some specifics:
The legislative leadership budget would eliminate more than $19 million in early-childhood block grants -- money used by some school districts to fund all-day kindergarten and the first three critical grades in school. We should be investing in early-childhood education, not gutting it.
The budget would also deprive our school districts of $42 million in state funds that help keep our schools running. This is a time when we should be investing in our schools.
Perhaps the most disturbing provision in this new proposal for education is its call for more than $16 million in cuts to the state's three universities, the very institutions that are Arizona's economic engines and that educate our future business, community and scientific leaders.
We want to build a new Arizona and for that to happen we must invest in quality education. Further cuts won't produce greatness, only mediocrity or worse.
Children, seniors and families
Lawmakers should also restore cuts they made in their first budget to services for children, seniors and families. For instance, the leadership is seeking to eliminate the Healthy Families program, one of the most successful child-abuse prevention initiatives in the state's history.
In addition, more than 2,240 elderly may find themselves forced into institutional care as a result of the leadership's proposed cuts to home and community-based services. Vulnerable senior citizens deserve better than this.
And while lawmakers restored some of their original reductions to KidsCare, which provides health-care services for needy children, the legislative leadership budget would still toss more than 21,500 parents out of the program.
These are only a sampling of the specific cuts that will adversely impact children and families. Taken in the aggregate, the leadership cuts would result in a loss to our state of more than $230 million in federal matching funds -- tax dollars that we send to Washington and that we can and should recapture.
The leadership is also proposing to consolidate the Office of Tourism and Department of Commerce and cutting their combined resources by more than 50 percent. While the idea of consolidation may have some merit, the term "consolidation" should not be used to disguise what effectively is a drastic cut.
These agencies are critical to Arizona's growth and prosperity. These severe cuts could render them incapable of performing their principle mission of attracting new companies to Arizona and expanding existing businesses.
Temporary fiscal measures
The Legislature's proposed cuts are proof of the old truism that some things can be penny-wise and pound-foolish. It doesn't have to be this way. We can avoid these devastating choices by adopting a few cost-effective temporary fiscal measures designed to bridge the current economic trough.
Those measures, some of which have been endorsed by legislative leaders in the past, include removing the special Medicaid exemption, which would allow us to recoup $50 million in federal tax money that belongs to Arizonans. However, our state has never bothered to reach out and reclaim these funds from Washington, despite the fact that they are there for the taking.
We should also revive Senate President Ken Bennett's recent proposal to conduct an education rollover, netting the state an additional $195 million, as well as implement year-end fund transfers, yielding more than $90 million.
I have offered a menu of other proposals to the Legislature and each of these proposals could easily be adopted, avoiding many of the unnecessary cuts contained in the leaders' proposal.
As this cursory analysis makes clear, the battle of the budget in Arizona is really a fight about education and families and economic development.
We have much to do and I invite legislative leaders to sit down with me as soon as they are ready, so that together we may pass a budget that secures Arizona's future.