Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, Monday delivered to the state Legislature, which has a Republican majority, an optimistic State of the State address. On Friday, she submitted a corresponding budget of $10.7 billion. billion plus deferred costs for a total spending plan of about $11.4 billion for fiscal year 2009.
Both reflect her priorities: children, education and jobs.
Immediately her critics, such as the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, scoffed at her proposals.
"This is fairy tale politics," the Goldwater Institute decried in a news release Monday. It said there are too many new programs and too few program and budget cuts.
Arizona's budget shortfall is not make believe. There is no consensus on the amount, but estimates are near $1 billion.
Napolitano's budget makes up for the shortfall by making cuts, using some of the money in the state's rainy-day fund, financing school construction and moving around money.
Napolitano's ideas and budget would move the state forward; however, her budget depends on a steady steam of taxes and fees being collected and acceptance of some financial maneuvers.
It calls for increased spending, so she'll be at odds with lawmakers who prefer a Lizzie Borden approach to the budget. Across-the-board cuts have been suggested. The Appropriations Committee chairman suggested a $9.7 billion budget, Capital Media Services reported. That's a big gap between the two.
Napolitano told the Star's editorial board last week that the budget should reflect the state's priorities.
Our state's education system is notoriously inadequate and we agree with Napolitano that Arizona must make education a priority.
We see a need for a cultural and political shift that emphasizes the importance of education and recognizes that without an educated work force our state can't develop or attract high-paying jobs. While we realize that throwing money at schools will not necessarily make them better, we also realize starving schools will only make them worse.
She has the bold idea of creating "centennial scholars," meaning members of the high school class of 2012 when Arizona turns 100 and beyond who stay out of trouble and maintain a "B" average would get free tuition at the state's community colleges and universities.
Also, she wants to keep tuition at the same level for each student during his or her four-year college career. While we'd like to see the details and the costs before endorsing these ideas or any financial incentive for education, we like the concept of encouraging kids to focus on higher education.
An economic downturn is the time plan for more robust economy, when such ideas are more feasible.
Some speech highlights included:
? Requiring by 2025 that all electric utilities provide 15 percent of their power from renewable sources and that there be statewide minimum conservation standards for new construction.
? Developing a statewide transportation plan with tribal governments that adds roadways, local transit and a Tucson-to-Phoenix rail line.
? Initiating a new "Kids Share" program that allows families to buy health insurance for their children.
? Funding the biomedical campus in Phoenix, in which the University of Arizona plays an integral role.
? The governor also emphasized research and pooling of private and public resources to encourage economic advancement.
? Shoring up failed federal illegal-immigration policies by clamping down on property managers who rent to smugglers.
Balancing the books
Napolitano is absolutely correct when she says that the budget shortfall is not permanent and that this is the time to invest in infrastructure so the state is ready to pounce when the economy rolls again.
Rather than slashing the state budget with a chainsaw, it should be pruned with surgical precision to allow the state to blossom in a better economic season. The Legislative budget proposes about $1.38 in spending cuts.
Napolitano has some productive ideas to both prune government and to build the state. She advocates:
? Combining or eliminating more than 50 boards, commissions and agencies, though the impact won't be felt until fiscal year 2010.
? Financing, rather than paying cash, for school construction in fiscal year 2009. This long-term investment strategy, similar to a mortgage on a home, would free up about $471 million in general fund monies for other projects and priorities. Napolitano says it's time to strike as interest charges would likely be favorable, below 5 percent.
Some Republicans don't want to build any new schools next year and or to borrow money to make ends meet.
? The governor has proposed using $263 million of the state's $685 million Budget Stabilization Fund, the rainy day fund, to manage the 2008 budget. In addition, her fiscal 2009 budget would use $196.6 million of the fund. It's appropriate to use this fund during tough economic times that's what it's for. There would be about $225 million, plus investment gains, remaining in the fund.
Several of the governor's ideas seem overly ambitious.
? Generating new revenue with enhanced photo radar enforcement on highways, with the money going to the Department of Public Safety. Lead-foot drivers are expected to generate about $90 million.
? The governor is also suggesting that low-level, nonviolent offenders sentenced to less than a year in prison serve their time in county jails rather than the more expensive prison system. However, we expect counties to balk rightly so at this proposal because the approximately $61 million that the state would save would have to be absorbed by the counties.
? Measures like requiring business to pay sales taxes early and delaying payment of state aid to schools seem to be accounting manipulations, not revenue sources.
We are pleased that the governor made Child Protective Services a priority by asking for 43 new case workers in the state budget, as well as support for substance-abuse programs. We hope that as the Legislature looks at ways to revamp and improve the agency, CPS is given the tools like these new case workers to do its job of protecting children.
The governor's philosophy and budgetary process, which she calls data-driven and prudent, runs contrary to the designs of the Legislature's conservatives. The budget will be batted about the legislative and governor's offices in what we expect will be tough, though we hope not acrimonious, discussions and debates during the next few months.
One thing we know about fairy tales is that the ending is usually "and they lived happily ever after."