According to the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, Arizona faces a staggering $1.6 billion budget deficit over the next two years. Despite increasing the sales tax to annually generate an additional $450 million for education and $1.75 billion in new federal funds since 1995, some legislators are still calling for higher taxes, tax base restructuring and bond elections to fund the state's shortfall. However, increasing the burden on taxpayers promises to deepen the current economic downturn, while issuing bonds will only compound and defer the state's debt. The only viable, fiscally sound option is to reduce state government spending.
Irresponsible spending on ineffective programs over the last decade leaves ample room for budget reductions that won't leave schools underfunded or force children to go hungry. State spending has quickly outpaced population growth, rising by an average 6.9 percent per year, while Arizona's population averages 2.9 percent annual growth. In real dollars, spending has climbed 77 percent in ten years, rising from $9.25 billion in 1994 to an estimated $16.4 billion by 2003. Eliminating the wasteful expenditures that have inflated state spending offers the possibility of a less weighty, more fiscally responsible and efficient government that will benefit all Arizonans.
As U.S. Congressman John Randolph (1773-1833) remarked, "It has been said that one of the most delicious of privileges is that of spending other peoples' money." The state's penchant for levying taxes and multiplying bureaucracies substantiates Randolph's observation. Handing out money to well-intentioned programs lacking measurable goals and proven effectiveness has wasted taxpayer dollars that could be creating economic growth in the private sector.
For example, wasteful spending in Arizona has created six agencies and $8.9 million annually directed toward gang crime prevention, but gang membership is steadily increasing. Another $4 million is tied up in programs to research diseases from asthma to Alzheimer's programs which duplicate the efforts of federal agencies, various private organizations and pharmaceutical companies. Then there's the $7 million given to private businesses to subsidize their employee recruitment and training. Ironically, the Governor's Office for Excellence in Government spends $1.1 million to provide management consulting services to the executive branch. Add to that $3 million to subsidize out-of-state college tuition for students enrolled in programs not offered in Arizona, such as dentistry, and the $1 million the state spends on developing optical technology, duplicating the millions of dollars private corporations already spend on optical technology research and development, and it's clear that the state's spending needs to be reined in. Arizona's legislature can only solve its budget woes by becoming a fiscally responsible steward of the public trust - not by raising taxes, restructuring the tax base or taking on more debt.
Cutting the $43,500 to pay an artist to design the annual duck stamp or the $247,800 for classes like "Walking Basics" for state employees, will not starve Arizona's children or leave schools in disrepair. Instead, by ending profligate use of public monies, the legislature can bring priorities in line with resources so that we may live within our means.