by Jim Nintzel
Last year, Senate President Bob Burns, who will be our guest on Arizona Illustrated's Friday Roundtable on March 12, allowed few non-budget bills to be heard for the first half of the session. It was meant to make lawmakers focus on the budget, although that remains out of balance even today. It did, however, slow down a lot of nonsense, although much got passed anyway.
Burns has just sent out a release saying he's suspending committee work next week to make his caucus focus on the budget:
Consistent with his commitment to focus on the state budget crisis, Senate President Bob Burns has suspended all Standing Committee hearings for the week of March 1. The postponement allows members to give full attention to the issue Arizonans want addressed: completing budgets for FY 2010 and FY 2011.
President Burns and Senate leadership have been working on the budgets since the beginning of this current Legislative session. At the same time, the Senate has been hearing hundreds of bills. Next week, the Senate will continue to hold caucuses and have votes on many bills, so those that pass can move to the House. But committee hearings will not happen, so Senators will have extra time to help solve this budget crisis.
The release came the day after Burns sent out a bulletin expressing his concern with the debt lawmakers were racking up:
As our state suffers through this current budget crisis, much of the attention has been focused on shrinking revenues and program and agency cuts. What people don’t seem to be talking about is
our growing debt. Looking ahead to the next fiscal year, our state’s budget includes a General Fund debt of $3.8 billion, including new debt of $300 million in sale/leaseback of state buildings and $450 million in future lottery proceeds that would otherwise have gone to the General Fund.
The state has already deferred $602 million in K-12 payments. Another $350 million K-12 “rollover” is likely to be approved soon that will bring the total use of this accounting gimmick to nearly $1 billion . We’ve enacted similar deferred payments for universities and health and welfare budgets. Using debt and accounting gimmicks generates cash on a one-time basis, but does nothing to address the on-going structural deficit.
The budget crisis is causing many lawmakers to make emergency decisions we hate to make. So why are we doing it? Because of federal stimulus funding, the Legislature was required to maintain funding levels for education and health care. Last year, we were able to maintain those levels. That source of funding has now dried up.
Our budget options are limited, and burdening our future generations with debt would not have been my first choice. Voter initiatives that limit the Legislature’s control of certain expenditures, along with a lack of will in the Senate and House to make deeper budget cuts, give us no choice but to accumulate new debt, or we would be forced to start paying Arizona’s bills with IOUs.
Paying off debt goes to the front of the line. Debt now becomes a bigger priority than paying for any of the state’s numerous other priorities.
Rather than paying as we go, the Legislature has adopted a pay later policy. Taxpayers will be responsible for this choice long after the lawmakers have left office.”