Editorialists throughout the state have waxed eloquent calling for restoration of funding to various parts of the state budget. University presidents complain of too little funding to universities and community colleges. School administrators complain that schools are short-changed. We’ve all seen the horror stories about reduced health benefits affecting organ transplant recipients and behavioral health services.
Calls for increased funding ignore one important point: the state doesn’t have the money. As I have pointed out before, the state budget will be in deficit through 2014 and beyond, even in years when the temporary sales tax passed last May is in effect. In the current fiscal year, almost half over, the state faces a deficit of at least $800 million. The minimum projected deficit in 2013 is $1.3 billion.
Spending on public education makes up 42 percent of the state’s general budget. Add health, welfare, and other social services and it’s 70 percent. Universities put it at 81 percent. Prisons at 91 percent. Every one of these categories should be immune to reductions according to someone. If the last nine percent of state government, which includes the judiciary, the legislature, various regulatory agencies, and the governor’s office, were eliminated, it would not fill the budget hole.
I believe organ transplants are more important than spending $665,000 on the Commission on the Arts and $194,000 on the Governor’s Office of Equal Opportunity. However, those little bits of money here and there only go so far. The other 91 percent of the budget cannot be off limits. When it comes to fixing Arizona’s budget shortfall, everything must be on the table.
Dr. Byron Schlomach is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Economic Prosperity.
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Joint Legislative Budget Committee: Highlights of the FY 2011 Budget
Joint Legislative Budget Committee: Revenue and Budget Update, November 19, 2010