In the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones overcomes a series of dangerous obstacles to grab a golden idol from an ancient temple. Suspecting a trap, Jones carefully replaces the idol with a bag of sand and smiles with satisfaction for a job skillfully done. Then, all Hell breaks loose, Indiana Jones is lucky to escape with his life, and his rival steals the idol.
Indy’s plight reminds us of the situation confronting Governor Jan Brewer and the Republican super-majority in the state Legislature after being elected by resounding margins on Nov. 2. They have just lifted the idol off the pedestal in triumph; now, the trap has been sprung.
This chart comes from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and shows the state’s spending compared with revenue. Arizona is spending far more than we’re bringing in, and we have been for years. Last year Arizona overspent by 56 percent – spending $9.7 billion but only bringing in $6.2 billion from permanent taxes and fees.
Even though we’ve heard a great deal about budget reductions that have been made, last year’s spending was still higher than at the top of the housing bubble in mid-2007. The yawning gap between spending and tax collections has been filled with every imaginable source of one-time revenues: federal bailouts, mortgaged state buildings, delayed payments to schools, and raids on various specialty funds.
Arizona’s majority party stands in electoral triumph, but a brutally honest and frank discussion about Arizona’s dire budget situation must begin right away. Arizona needs deep spending reductions, structural reform to government, and strong leadership. Otherwise, unlike Indiana Jones, policymakers in power will be crushed by the rolling stone of the budget trap.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute. Dr. Byron Schlomach is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Economic Prosperity.
Goldwater Institute: A Fresh Start for Arizona: Proposals for Closing a Billion-Dollar Budget Gap
Goldwater Institute: Saving with Systemic Change
Goldwater Institute: Put Arizona on a Real Budget: New Spending Limit Can Restore State’s Fiscal Health
Joint Legislative Budget Committee: Revenue and Budget Update