Payson would lose $2 million and have to cut vital services under the state Senate’s budget plan, said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.
Various provisions in the Senate budget plan would translate into an estimated 10 percent reduction in the town’s already strained general fund budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, said Evans.
If the House adopts a similar budget and the governor signs it, Payson would have to make deep cuts in basic services — including police and fire, said Evans, who spent the past week in Phoenix trying to convince representatives in the House to vote against the senate plan.
“We’d have to fundamentally re-evaluate what services we can provide,” said Evans. “This budget would force a radical change in what we can do.”
He urged residents to immediately contact state lawmakers representing Rim Country to express their opposition to the state Senate budget plan, which added $600 million to cuts proposed earlier this year by Gov. Jan Brewer.
Senate President Pro-Tem Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) represents Rim Country. She voted for the Senate plan in the appropriations committee and again on the Senate floor. Representatives Chester Crandell and Brenda Barton represent Rim Country in the House. Evans said he has met with them and believes they will support a more moderate list of cuts in a separate House budget.
However, he noted that Rep. Barton suffered an attack of appendicitis in the midst of the budget crisis and just got out of the hospital on Thursday.
The state Senate budget would take an extra $65 million from the universities, which would effectively kill Arizona State University’s plan to build a campus in Payson. It would also take an extra $225 million from K-12 schools, which would add another $530,000 to the projected $930,000 deficit in the Payson Unified School District budget.
But as town officials got hold of the fine print in the state Senate’s budget plan, the additional heavy toll on local government began to emerge. State Senators adopted the additional cuts to avoid borrowing money or resort to financial juggles like reducing the deficit by postponing required payments into the next fiscal year. Lawmakers refused to consider any tax increases, but did approve a bundle of new tax cuts for businesses.
Evans said the towns that had made big cuts in spending in the past two years to balance their budgets and stay within existing state tax and spending limits would get hit especially hard by the fresh round of cuts in the state Senate’s budget plan.
Payson in the past two years has eliminated almost all spending for capital improvements, approved modest layoffs, left vacant positions unfilled, imposed a broad pay freeze and squeezed spending across the board.
“We’ve cut our budget dramatically,” said Evans. “So we’re going to be treated differently and suffer a bigger cut than the cities that have continued to overspend.”
Under the Senate plan, Payson and other Rim Country communities would suffer an array of cutbacks as the Legislature gobbled up town funds to balance its own budget. The Senate plan includes reductions in money from the gas tax and sales taxes the state collects and then distributes to cities and towns.
Evans said that cities and towns 35 years ago agreed to let the state collect sales tax and gas tax revenues due to them. Then when the Legislature sought voter approval for a temporary one-cent increase in the sales tax to ease the budget crisis, cities and towns agreed to forego their share of the temporary tax increase. That cost local government about $600 million in foregone revenue, said Evans.
“Now they’re saying that because we opened the door, they’re going to kick it down,” said Evans.
However, Evans said that a public outcry in the past week has changed the budget calculus in the Legislature.
“It’s like that nuclear reaction in Japan: The top has blown off the top of the caldron and it’s definitely boiling down there.”
He said a week ago, it looked like the House would adopt a budget that closely mirrored the Senate version. However, he said an avalanche of comments from voters has convinced many House members to instead adopt a budget closer to Gov. Brewer’s spending plan — which cut the state’s medical program for the poor and the universities substantially, but took much less money from local governments and school districts.
Now he rated the odds the House will adopt its own budget “very, very high.”
He said he met with one lawmaker who had received 500 e-mails in a day, most of them from people in that lawmaker’s own district.
“They’re paying attention,” he said of the public outcry. “What you want to do is make sure you make your name and address very clear — so they know you’re from their district.”