Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The Budget and the 49th Legislature
The first general session of the 49th State Legislature got off to a start this week with the official swearing in of the legislators and the governor's State of the State Address. The 800 pound gorilla in the room for this session is the $1.2 billion hole in the FY 2009 budget as well as similar forecasts for the 2010 and 2011 budgets.
The projected shortfalls in the state budget for the next few years are huge, and leave our legislators with a host of choices to make, none of which are going to be pain free. To help drive this point home, the House/Senate leadership convened a joint panel discussion with local business leaders/owners this morning, as well as a joint budget study session this afternoon.
During the panel discussion, each panelist explained how the current economic climate has affected their business, the tough decisions they have had to make, and the actions they have taken to position themselves for survival in the short term while keeping an eye on future opportunities. They also provided the legislature with their own thoughts on ways the business climate can be improved in Arizona. These suggestions mostly revolved around equalizing the tax codes and removing onerous regulations (which isn't a big surprise) but they drove their points home with specific examples of ways this could improve the economy in the long run. I saw that most of the legislators took notes - I hope they refer to them often during this session.
During the joint budget study session, the specific challenges of the current budget were reviewed in detail for the members. Several legislators seemed to realize the extent of the shortfall and how it would affect their pet programs during this presentation.
As a guest of Sen. Pearce, today I had the opportunity to sit in on these meetings as well as listen in on the conversations he had with other legislators and members of leadership. It was eye opening to see the amount of work that goes into preparing all of the options for members to consider, as well as the realities of making tough choices with the budget. I also got to see the opportunities that this budget crisis presents for our legislature. Without minimizing the difficulty of the decisions that will be made on programs and departments, the shortfalls in the budget actually present the legislature with a golden opportunity to streamline, reduce costs, and create efficiencies. The overall effect can be a government that better serves the people of our state.
Unfortunately there are going to be human costs to these decisions. In spite of this, our legislators and governor are just going to have to make the tough calls and deal with the consequences. The option of continuing to fund everything and not make cuts is just not tenable, and we are ill served by elected officials who won't "cowboy up" and make the hard choices. Families can't live beyond their means and neither can businesses, so why should government get away with it? In this climate cuts have to be made by everyone.
This creates a dilemma for politicians who will eventually incur the wrath of people affected by the cuts they decide to make. People are going to be unhappy with them and it may cost them later on, but it is the right thing to do. It will be interesting to see which legislators do the right thing and which ones do the "expedient" thing. From what I have seen of Sen. Pearce and several of the other legislators I spoke with today, I have high expectations. Time will tell.
A special "Thank You!" to Sen. Pearce for allowing me to be his shadow today and answering my questions. I also want to acknowledge the unsung heroes of our state legislators. Their executive assistants do a tremendous job keeping the legislators schedules, managing the traffic in and out of their offices, answering phone calls, keeping track of their paperwork and making the contacts our legislators need to do their job. Sen. Pearce's assistant, Karen, is a superhero, and has made each of my visits to Sen. Pearce's office a productive and enlightening experience. Thanks Karen!
Posted by Keeper of Banners at 9:25 PM