I honestly thought Republican legislators would be waking up in cold sweats in the middle of the night worrying about cutting $1.6 billion from Arizona’s budget.

I guess I was wrong. It looks like they can’t wait to begin swinging their budget ax.

Arizona’s shortfall may not be the largest dollar amount in the nation, but in terms of the percentage of our general fund, it’s the larger than any other state’s deficit. Even if we root out government waste and find new sources of revenue, Arizonans are going to feel the pain, especially those who are most in need.

But the ultraconservative Republicans who have taken control of their party see Arizona’s pain as their ideological gain. It’s a golden opportunity to put their budget cutting agenda into play.

Our new LD-26 State Senator, Al Melvin, sounds almost giddy at the prospect of hacking away at government programs.

“When everyone is on their knees, so to speak, from the adverse economic situation,” Melvin is quoted as saying in an Explorer article, “you can get more accomplished in a fundamental way than you can if you’re flush with revenue and cash.”

“When everyone is on their knees.” What an image! Melvin must see himself laying siege to the castle, wearing down the populace in a war of attrition until they’re too hungry and too sick to fight back. They’ll have no choice but to endure budget cuts on the Republicans’ terms.

“Under these circumstances,” Melvin continued, “you can effect fundamental change. I’m looking forward to it.”

The fundamental change he’s looking forward to is cutting our school budgets to the bone, along with health care and other government programs that don’t fit his smaller-government-is-better-government mindset. And the people on their knees are Arizonans who have lost their jobs, their health care and their homes, people struggling just to put food on their families’ tables.

What’s so disturbing about this isn’t that Republicans plan to make budget cuts. Everyone knows cuts will be necessary. It’s that Republican legislators are using the deficit as an excuse to hack away at programs they’ve hated for years.

Melvin isn’t alone, of course. Sen. Russell Pearce, chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee, said, “It’s going to get bloody around here.” Like Melvin, he’s girded for battle, budget ax in hand. He envisions blood being shed by decimated government agencies and defeated Democrats. He can’t wait for the carnage to begin.

And if the federal government offers money to prop up some programs the Republican majority would rather slash? According to Senate President Bob Burns, “If it’s directed at the wrong areas, maybe we just turn it down.”

Nobody’s going to rain on their budget-slashing parade.

I’m reminded of the film, Dr. Strangelove, a very dark comedy from 1964 where the prospect of a nuclear war grows from a frightening possibility to a virtual certainty. The politicians and generals in the war room grow increasingly fond of the idea. In the final scenes, they’re all figuring out ways to benefit from the upcoming devastation.

That’s why the film is subtitled, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.”

I picture a new Dr. Strangelove wandering the halls of Arizona’s legislature, steeped in the philosophy of Grover “Shrink government until it can be drowned in a bathtub” Norquist. He’s so filled with convoluted economic theory, he’s forgotten “the economy” isn’t an abstraction. It’s a collection of real, flesh-and-blood people who get hurt when things turns sour. He sits at the head of the Republican caucus explaining how this economic disaster is everything a conservative could hope for. And his listeners’ eyes light up as they dream of cutting programs and cutting taxes.

The subtitle of the new version of the film is, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the economic crisis.”

David Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.

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