Arizona policymakers need to accept the reality that there’s no way to avoid government downsizing. The state is now second to only California in the severity of its fiscal crisis and faces over $5 billion in additional budget deficits through 2011. Yet, our officials remain distracted by Sacramento-style accounting gimmicks and a proposed sales tax hike that wouldn’t come close to closing the gap. Worse, many policymakers seem more concerned with preserving agency largesse than trying to eliminate it.
Contrast this with Louisiana, the state taking the most thoughtful approach to solving its fiscal crisis. Pelican State policymakers, led by Governor Bobby Jindal, have embarked on a wide-ranging set of government reforms designed to reduce the size and cost of government.
They created a Commission on Streamlining Government this year to identify over $1.5 billion in cost savings through streamlining, consolidation, and elimination. They passed legislation granting more flexibility in cutting spending in protected “silos.” Gov. Jindal has eliminated thousands of positions from the state budget and over 70 unnecessary or inactive state boards and commissions. The Louisiana Division of Administration is developing a range of privatization proposals within each of its departments, and it’s also piloting a new budgeting approach designed to fund priorities and drive performance. And this is all just a start.
It’s already paying off. Ratings agency Fitch upgraded Louisiana's bond rating last month, specifically citing the state's focus on spending control and streamlining as influencing factors. This alone will save taxpayers millions in avoided interest costs over time.
Arizona policymakers face a simple choice: remain lost in the fiscal forest with California or follow the lead of Louisiana, which is blazing a trail out.
Leonard Gilroy is the director of government reform at Reason Foundation (reason.org) and resides in Fountain Hills.
Pew Center on the States: "Beyond California: States in Fiscal Peril"