Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen trounced challenger and Democrat Elaine Bohlmeyer in Tuesday night’s election by a three-to-two margin both statewide and in Gila County.
Allen, left to contend with the state’s disastrous budget, said the wide margin surprised her. “I take that as a pretty strong mandate from my district,” said Allen. “They want smaller government. They don’t want higher taxes.”
Bohlmeyer said she was disappointed with the outcome, but satisfied with her campaign.
“I lost in really good company,” Bohlmeyer said about the massacre Democrats suffered across the nation. “I’m disappointed. I would have loved to try to make things better for the state.”
Overnight, Arizona’s deficit ballooned from a projected $825 million to $1.3 billion when voters defeated Propositions 301 and 302. The measures would have allowed lawmakers to sweep into the general fund $123.5 million from a land preservation program and $325 million from the First Things First fund for early childhood development programs.
“It’s going to be very difficult,” said Bohlmeyer. “I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with it.”
Allen said the measures’ failures upset her. “People have to face the facts,” she said. “The state does not have enough money to maintain all the programs we have.”
She added, “All I’m gong to be able to say is go to First Things First and ask them to pony up.”
To cut costs, lawmakers need to look at each agency, streamlining it and eliminating excess bureaucracy, Allen said. “Why does money have to flow through three agencies before it gets to the people who need it?” she wondered.
Money flows through agencies that cost too much to run, with each level of bureaucracy absorbing more money, said Allen. Ultimately the providers struggle with less money to help the people for whom the program was designed, she added.
Other programs need to generate more revenue, said Allen. For example, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), which absorbs 29 percent of the state’s budget, should charge $30 co-pays for doctors’ visits, said Allen. Patients in the system now pay $5 co-pays for office visits, $30 for an emergency room and $10 for name-brand prescriptions.
“It’s a Cadillac policy,” said Allen. “We’re draining the system.”
Allen acknowledged that state agencies have already suffered cuts. “If we could really start tearing some of this stuff apart, we could find it,” she said about excess. “It’s having the time and the will and the people.”
Critics have accused the lawmakers of stalling inevitably difficult decisions by employing gimmicks like selling the state’s buildings and rolling over payments to schools into the next fiscal year.
“It is very hard to cut,” Allen defended herself. Lawmakers know their decisions have significant impacts on the electorate and lobbyists never cease promoting their causes.
“I think we’re at a crisis now,” said Allen.
Other ways of saving money include contracting out for services such as conducting the required audits of public agencies. The move would also reignite the private sector.
“Is that going to be all the money I’m talking about? No,” said Allen. “Maybe $1 million, but $1 million adds up.”