State Senate Fiddles As The House Burns

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The house has caught fire. The children are trapped in the bedroom. Run, quickly, get a bucket. We hope that every voter who reads this editorial will immediately set down the paper and call, write or e-mail Sen. Sylvia Allen, Representative Chester Crandell and Representative Brenda Barton to urge them to reject the state Senate’s budget and support Gov. Jan Brewer’s alternative.

The closer we look at the state Senate’s short-sighted, destructive ideological knee-jerk of a budget, the worse it gets.

Last week in this space, we lamented the impact of the Senate’s budget on our schools and on Payson’s hopes for an ASU campus.

In today’s paper, you’ll find stories about additional disasters the irresponsible Senate plan will spawn.

For instance, the Senate’s embrace of $600 million in spending cuts over and above Gov. Jan Brewer’s recommendations would likely shutter the whole state park system. That would deliver a body blow to rural economies, including Rim Country, which sees about $26 million in added revenue as a result of spending by visitors to the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

Moreover, the Senate balances the state’s budget by stealing money from cities, towns and counties. That would likely cost the town of Payson about $2 million — a roughly 10 percent cut. The town has already pared the parks budget down to nothing, quit maintaining its roads and canceled most of its capital improvements. Another round of cuts to help bail out the reckless Legislature will mean more layoffs and reductions in police and fire budgets.

Meanwhile, over at the Payson Unified School District, the Senate budget will add about $520,000 to the school district budget deficit — doubling the number of teachers the district will likely lay off. That will spawn a ruinous rise in class sizes, on top of the proposal to eliminate the existing, $930,000 deficit.

That represents a heartless, foolish, self-destructive economy.

Gov. Jan Brewer has offered a far more responsible plan. We hope representatives Crandell and Barton will support a House budget that follows the governor’s blue print — and forces the Senate to get back on its meds and act responsibly.

Now, we have long nurtured reservations about Gov. Brewer’s plan, which includes deep cuts in the state’s medical program for the poor, mentally ill, disabled and impoverished nursing home residents. Brewer also proposed a lamentable $170 million cut in state support for the universities, forcing another crippling rise in tuition to about $9,200 per year — among the highest public school rates in the country.

We understand there are no easy fixes to a state budget that has been overburdened with unnecessary projects for years and years. We understand the knee-jerk reaction to just cut and cut without regard to the effects of such cuts. There needs to be a long-term approach to state spending — look at what is really needed by what agencies, not just a slice and cut program to necessary government functions like education and maintaining state parks. Taking money from counties and towns does nothing. The taxpayer will still be asked to pay more without getting any new benefits.

We believe the state’s long-term financial health depends on reforms that will ensure lawmakers never again squander boom-time surpluses by haphazardly adding programs when times are good that will cause twice the trauma when the inevitable downturn comes.

But that’s a discussion for the future.

At the moment, the smoke is billowing out of the windows of the children’s bedroom.

The state Senate’s budget plan will do fundamental harm to education and local government and will make it much harder to crawl out of the hole irresponsible past decisions by the previous Legislatures and governors have made so much deeper.

So taxpayers must link hands and form a bucket brigade. Time to argue later about whether the problem lay in the electrical wiring or the leaky gas line in the kitchen. Right now, let’s concentrate on getting the children out safely.

So please, write, call or e-mail Allen, Crandell and Barton today.

Then refill your bucket — and write them again tomorrow.

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