This week's column reports on the fun and games at the state capitol, where "fiscal discipline" would have to involve leather and chains. I've got a list of the bills if you're really, really interested. For non-Arizonans, "AIMS" is the Arizona Instrument for Measuring Standards, which is the high-stakes high school graduation test, which does have a math component.
Why GOP Budgeters Must Have Flunked AIMS
East Valley Tribune, Mar. 19, 2006
Here’s the key to understanding the fiscal fun and games at your GOP-controlled Arizona Legislature: They have the same sense of fiscal discipline as the GOP-controlled Congress, and the same command of arithmetic as President Bush.
It was candidate George W. Bush in 2000 who claimed that for every $3 of the projected budget surplus, he would use $1 to pay down the debt, $2 to cut taxes, and $1 to shore up Social Security and a Medicare drug benefit. You may detect a bit of a problem with that math.
And that’s before doing the harder calculations to discover that if you direct money to tax cuts and spending, then the surplus won’t be as big, then not as much debt gets paid off, then interest payments on the debt remain higher than forecast, then the surplus is even smaller, and so on. And al that’s before having to spending anything on homeland security, Katrina reconstruction, and the Iraq war.
The Bush administration -- and the GOP-controlled Congress, too; they have to pass every single one of these budget and spending bills -- managed to spend the surplus about three times over, which is why we’ve gone from Clinton’s record surplus to Bush’s record deficit. It isn’t 9/11 or WMD or Katrina; it’s the arithmetic. The “emergency” spending is just gravy.
That kind of hoping-you-also-can’t-add politics is running rampant at the state Legislature, too. The state is benefiting from stronger-than-projected income and sales tax receipts, and our budget surplus may exceed $1 billion. Based on bills introduced by your friends at the Legislature, the GOP caucus has a Bush-like fiscal plan. For every $1 of the surplus, they want to devote $1 to tax cuts this year, $2 (and change) to tax cuts next year, and $3 to tax cuts the year after that.
And what a list of tax-cut pork it is! GOP legislators want to shower tax cuts and incentives on “character education” providers, teachers, “energy efficient” products, investors, telecommunication companies, water utilities, electrical generating plants, contractors, manufactured buildings, liquid natural gas, and researchers. The legislators want to spend the surplus more than six times -- in just three years. Why not? The GOP Congress did it -- why not our GOP Legislature, too?
Of course, the tax-cut frenzy for their favored industries and friends is just one side of the coin. At the same time that legislators want to use the one-time surplus approximately 6.4 times on tax cuts, they’re also eager to devote more resources to border control and immigration, which are federal responsibilities not being met. Then there’s everything else that costs money, too. It’s a couple million here, a couple dozen million there, and a couple hundred million here, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.
So that’s fiscal discipline, GOP-style. You have a good year after several tight budget years that required cuts to education, health care, and child protection. Instead of fixing what got deferred or ignored, you point to a surplus -- and spend it about a dozen times over. It worked in Washington, after all, where Republicans are having no difficulty campaigning against their own record.
To hear them speak, you’d never know that guys like Bill Frist or Jon Kyl were actually incumbents and voting when all this spending occurred. You’d never learn from Bush that he was in charge of the executive branch and let all this spending go into law, vetoing not one bill in six years. So why shouldn’t local GOP legislators try to emulate their betters with totally irrational tax and spending plans?
If you like what Bush and Congress have done with taxes and spending, you’ll love the Arizona Legislature. Just don’t expect any of their budget math to add up, and you’ll be fine.