It's coming down to crunch time in the legislative session. If you don't pay much attention to baseball until the World Series or if you're not a big fan of college basketball until March Madness - this is the time of year to keep an eye on your state Legislature.
The budget is always the Big Deal, more so this year because of that $1 billion tax overpayment (AKA "surplus") hanging over us. This would be a splendid time to have a spending limitation like TABOR in place, so spenders would be restricted to only those increases justified by the growth of the state and its actual needs. Gov. Napolitano is calling for a 22 percent spending increase, a clear case of spending because it's there. This is the binge phase of the binge and purge cycle that destabilizes the state financially. And every dollar spent now goes into the base of next year's budget and every subsequent budget into perpetuity.
At least prospects for a tax cut look good. Soaring real estate assessments have created pressure for property tax relief. The business community is a big supporter, and it's hard to fault them, since our property tax system is especially tough on them. But still, the evidence is overwhelming that income tax reductions are the most effective at stimulating economic growth. It makes sense that if you tax work and productivity, you get less of both. Legislative tax cutters are aiming for at least 15 percent in phased-in income tax reductions plus some help with property taxes. The governor's not a fan, but the elections coming up this November may soften her resistance to tax reductions.
Many of the thousand or so other bills out there could also have an impact. Sen. Barbara Leff sponsored SB 1221, which would permit persons, such as you or maybe your lawn man, who want to engage in basic weed control to do so without running afoul of state regulations. Surprised such legislation is necessary? Welcome to the wonderful world of economic protection legislation, in which people from all fields regularly beseech government to protect them from competition. In this case, the pest control industry has apparently learned nothing from its foolish attempts to interfere with a teenager's roof rat eradication business. They are battling furiously to kill or seriously weaken this bill.
The car dealers, not to be outdone, have HB 2386 in play, their attempt to crack down on the brokers, car buying services and independent lessors who are competing unfairly through such vicious stratagems as lower pricing and more convenient service. Our economic liberties are under perpetual assault.
Some other bills are attempts to correct past problems. Rep. Laura Knaparek sponsored HCR 2019, which addresses so-called single subject reform. Twice recently judges have unexpectedly struck down ballot initiatives on the basis that they violated the requirement that only one subject be addressed in an initiative. This resolution, if approved at the ballot, would allow initiative backers to get a declaratory judgment from the Supreme Court early in the process. They would know where they stood before massive amounts of time and money were invested.
The Legislature has been dealing with a federal court takeover of English Language Learning (ELL) instruction and its funding for some time now. The problem started with a consent decree signed by a former superintendent of public instruction. A bill requiring legislative committee approval of such decrees in the future was vetoed by the governor last week. If you like your Legislature weak and ineffective, this governor is on your side.
Her own prerogatives are another matter. A bill restricting the governor's authority to impose restrictions on firearms during an emergency was also vetoed. Although other jurisdictions have seen abuses, this is not a problem in Arizona, she argued. But if it's not a problem, why does she need the authority?
Finally, the Legislature passed the bill making illegal immigration a trespassing violation enforceable by local law enforcement. The governor had a great opportunity here to counter critics who claim she is all talk but no substance on immigration issues. She sponsored a big statewide conference last year on getting local law enforcement involved. Since this is just permissive and gives law officers another tool - oops! She vetoed this one too. Never mind.
They're going into the ninth inning (or the fourth quarter) down at the Capitol. Stay tuned.