“Sorry, kids, but we can’t afford to give you a future.”
That’s what Republican legislators are saying to every child and every university student in Arizona with their proposed budget cuts.
We all know the state is in a deep, deep budget hole, with a projected deficit well over a billion dollars in the fiscal year ending this June, and another $3 billion next year. No question, we need to make cuts.
But I also know what I heard during the 2008 campaigns: pledges from candidates to support public education. Everyone, Republicans and Democrats alike, talked about wanting more money for classrooms and higher salaries for teachers.
But now that the election is over, Republicans are hurrying to get a budget on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk that includes $103 million in cuts from K-12 schools and another $175 million from universities.
And that’s just until June. For the next fiscal year, they want to cut another $892 million from K-12 and $314 million from universities.
Republicans insist that every option other than budget cuts is off the table. No borrowing money against future lottery and tobacco settlement revenues. Absolutely no tax increases. Not even the reinstatement of a property tax that was suspended temporarily in 2006 when the state was running a surplus. And as for federal money promised to states by the Obama administration: I guess they view that as tainted Democratic money and are talking about turning some of it down.
It’s become fashionable for Brewer and other Republicans to label Napolitano “irresponsible” because of her past budgets. They hang the same “irresponsible” label on her current budget proposal because it includes borrowing and reinstating the suspended property tax so we can balance the budget without crippling our schools.
Throwing the term “irresponsible” at Napolitano is a classic bit of political spin right out of the Rove / Cheney playbook: accuse the other side of your own sins.
In fact, it’s the Republicans who are acting irresponsibly. Responsible adults facing monetary problems take nothing off the table when it comes to the well-being of their children. They spend late nights with pencil and paper figuring out ways to spare their children wherever possible. They look for ways to bring in more money. They consider borrowing against equity to give their children what they need, knowing the money will have to be paid back in the future. And they gratefully accept help from others when help is offered.
In times like these, responsible adults acknowledge the painful truth that they have nothing but bad options to choose from. And they keep all options on the table but one: endangering their children’s futures.
It’s truly, deeply irresponsible to cling to conservative economic dogma at a time when flexibility is essential. Even in good economic times, our government spending per person is well below the national average, which is why we struggle to balance the budget each year, even though we’re 49th in the nation in educational spending. And these certainly aren’t good economic times.
The Republicans hope to rush the new budget onto Brewer’s desk by early February, before the public has a chance to understand its impact on education. They rightly fear that people will decide against conservative ideological rigidity and choose a more flexible approach that puts the Democrats’ ideas into the mix.
By now, virtually every educator and every newspaper editorial is up in arms about the proposed cuts, and some in the business community are aghast as well. So we’re hearing noises from Republicans about easing back on the cuts.
But that’s just another ploy. Republicans want to establish their outlandish proposals as a starting point for compromise. Democrats, educators, parents and forward-looking members of the business community must reject the current proposal outright and demand that the budget process begin anew with all options back on the table.
David Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.