It appears that some of our Tucson-area Republican legislators are more interested in serving the ideology of their Maricopa County leaders instead of the interests of their Southern Arizona constituents.

As proof, we need only examine their threats to Rio Nuevo / TREO, the draconian budget cuts to our K-12 education / university systems, corporate tax credits for private / parochial schools, and the $22.5 million cut from Science Foundation Arizona.

Cuts to education will be devastating enough, but the $22.5 million cut to SFAz will have an immediate and direct impact on Arizona’s economy and Tucson families. One local example is the Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona. They were able to leverage the $1 million from SFAz into $6 million in equal matching funds. If SFAz is dismantled, this proposal and others like may well collapse.

In FY2009, the investment of $22.5 million the state funds spent on SFAz generated direct matching funds of $35 million and leveraged an additional $50 million. Because of this cut, Arizona stands to lose, this year alone, at least $85 million. This money educates students, creates high-paying jobs, attracts high-level industry and lets businesses know Arizona is open for business. This money directly benefits Pima County families, educational institutions and Southern Arizona’s economy.

Here is how our current Southern Arizona legislators made this happen.

Tucson-area legislators, Reps. Antenori R-LD30, Gowan R-LD30 and Stevens R-LD25, joined Rep. Sam Crump and the other Maricopa legislators who refused to vote for the budget unless $22.5 million for SFAz was removed. As with the cuts to education, their positions were based completely on ideology and not what was best for Southern Arizona.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Vic Williams R-LD26 could have made a stand and spoken out against the economic impact such cuts would have on his district and Tucson’s economy. Instead, he shares the same shortsighted and narrow views as his Maricopa leadership and went along the cuts.

The 2009 budget bill (with the $22.5 cut to SFAz and education) passed in special session with only the minimum 16 Senate votes required for passage. Two Republican senators, Carolyn Allen and Jay Tibshraeny, had the courage and wisdom to oppose the budget. Only one more vote was needed to defeat it. Two votes could have been had if two Southern Arizona Sens. Al Melvin R-LD26 and Jonathan Paton R-LD30 had voted in their districts’ interests instead of marching in lock step with their Maricopa leadership’s ideology.

More importantly, Senator Melvin, as the powerful vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, could have saved the $22.5 for SFAz from being cut in committee, or if that effort failed, during the final vote in the Senate. Better yet, the more experienced Sen. Paton (eight years in the House) could have shown leadership and joined forces with Sen. Melvin and refused to vote for the budget if the cuts to SFAz remained in the bill. Instead, they voted with the Maricopa ideology and against the economic interests of Arizona.

In the past, Southern Arizona has elected independent legislators who represent their districts and not mirror images of the Maricopa legislators. The past legislators valued public education. During their campaigns, this crop of newly elected senators and representatives vowed to do just that and be independent voices. They vowed to fight for public education and to represent their district’s interests. Clearly they have failed their first test.

Lena Saradnik, a Democrat, is a former legislator in District 26.

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