State Capitol News
3:20 am
Sat January 31, 2009

Legislature finalizes controversial budget deal

Phoenix, AZ – State lawmakers early this morning finally approved a revised
budget to deal with the deficit.

Adoption came after the Republican-controlled Legislature beat
back efforts by Democrats to reverse proposed cuts for several
programs, especially funds for public schools, community colleges
and universities. One amendment by Rep. David Schapira
specifically sought to restore the $142 million in cuts to the
university system.

(There are people that haven't even been born yet that are
counting on us to pass this amendment right now because the
impact of this budget cut without this amendment will be a
generational one and not a fiscal one if this amendment did not
pass.)

And Rep Steve Farley said the cuts to education are not
necessary, saying there is evidence Arizona will get a billion
dollars in federal stimulus funds. But the GOP plan assumes that
aid will be just half that, which is why they are cutting
education funds by more than $280 million.

(We have a stimulus package that has already been approved in the
House and it's on its way to being approved in the Senate, that
tells us that we don't need to make these cuts. We don't need to
hurt our children. We don't need to decimate our education
system.)

But Republican John Kavanagh said the objections are based on the
premise that the cuts would permanently harm education,
particularly public schools.

(The cuts, while unfortunate, the cuts, while deep, are by no
means fatal. And in fact these cuts were put together from
numerous school districts in terms of the quantity and the method
in which they're taken.)

He said the public school cuts amount to only about 1.8 percent
of their total budgets. And he noted the legislation give schools
permission to divert any money they have left for school supplies
to instead pay for salaries or other operating expenses. One of
the last fights was over the question of exactly how much
flexibility public school officials should have. Sen. Jack
Harper sought to include a requirement that school districts
slash 25 percent of administrative staff before making any cuts
to classroom spending. He talked about a demonstration last
weekend out in front of the capitol by those opposed to school
spending cuts, including school officials.

(I personally believe that some of those school superintendents
that were out on the lawn on Sunday would, if they had the
flexibility, they would make the cuts closest to the parents so
that the parents would be mad at the Legislature.)

His colleagues would not go along with that. But they did agree
to require that cuts made by schools should come from
administrative costs rather than classroom instruction -- quote -
- to the extent possible. Harper said he wasn't happy but could
live with it because he believes it will ensure that teachers are
the last ones laid off. But Schapira said even that is too
restrictive as it could force schools to fire critical staff.

(Sure. We'll have teachers. We'll have new textbooks adopted. We
might just have smaller class sizes. But those teachers aren't
going to get their checks in some districts because we're going
to fire the payroll department. Those students won't show up to
school because we're going to get rid of the buses. They won't
have books to check out because we're going to get rid of the
librarians.)

The package enacted plugs the $1.6 billion deficit with about
$580 million in spending cuts, a nearly identical amount taken
from special funds and that half-billion dollars expected from
the federal government. The difficulties in crafting this plan
may pale in comparison to what is to come: Even with some
permanent funding cuts just enacted, the deficit next year still
could approach $3 billion.