Monday, June 11, 2007

In State Budget News, There's No State Budget News

Here's this week's column. I wondered if Linda Turley-Hansen might have a response to last week's column, but instead, hers was a positive review of the vegan lifestyle. Yes, Arizona, home to vegan warmongers. And in editing news, apparently "Sheik" is a pejorative term, because a couple of them got deleted by the editor. While we're not anti-Arab at the Tribune, we're, well, um, uncomfortable.

For those of you home early enough and curious enough, KAET decided to give Andy a break and have me be the Democratic talking head on tonight's Horizon program, which airs on Channel 8 at 7 pm MST.

Hey, House Republicans: When you've even exhausted state Sen. Bob Burns's appetite for partisan shenanigans, shouldn't that tell you something?

East Valley Tribune, June 10, 2007

We Arizonans shouldn’t get too uppity about the tribal nature of Iraqi politics, because down at the state legislature, they’re pretty tribal themselves. You probably know that they’re still in session because both houses still haven’t agreed with the governor on a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. What you probably don’t know is that it’s not a partisan dispute anymore. Instead, it’s tribal.

It’s no longer Republicans versus Democrats on the budget. Instead, five separate tribes and sheiks are involved, with four having reached a deal. Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Democrats, and the governor all have agreed on a budget package. The only holdout is the House Republicans, led by "sheik" Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix. His and his tribe’s intransigence would do credit to members of the Iraqi National Assembly, and what they’re arguing about would make just as much sense to most Arizonans.

This isn’t to say that House GOP budget negotiators haven’t made at least one significant concession over the past week. State government is way behind in its utility bills. The budget adopted last year underestimated how much electricity, water, and sewer rates would increase, and all of the money appropriated for utilities for the year has been spent. While state buildings are still using electricity and water, the Department of Administration can’t cut checks to pay the bills, because there’s no more budget authority left.

It’s not an unprecedented problem; it’s hard to get all of the estimates right in putting together a budget for the entire state government, and the usual solution is to put a catch-up appropriation for the current year’s bills in the next year’s budget. But with next year’s budget still undone, the state can’t, by law, pay these past-due utility bills.

Both APS and the city of Phoenix have sent the state past-due and turnoff notices because of the delinquent bills. The amount needed to pay bills through June 30 -- both the current unpaid plus estimated charges for the rest of June -- is $1.7 million. That amount is tucked into the bipartisan Senate budget to which Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Democrats, and the governor have agreed.

But Weiers and his tribe had problems with the state actually paying for the water and power it used, and their budget proposal only included $1 million for the current-year utility bill shortfall. Now that’s what you call ideological zeal, being willing to have the lights and water shut off in order to feed your base red-meat tax giveaways and corporate pork. It’s hard to criticize the Iraqi National Assembly for taking the summer off when our own House Republicans don’t think it’s worthwhile to keep the lights (and air conditioning) on.

But that’s been the level of budget debate for the past two weeks: Should the state pay all of its overdue utility bills, or only about half? Luckily for those of you who expect air conditioning when you need to visit a Motor Vehicle office, the House GOP finally managed to see the light, as it were, and announced to the other budget principals, with great fanfare, that the House GOP is willing to put all $1.7 million in past-due utility bills into their budget as well.

There aren’t any windows in the Speaker’s office, so this shouldn’t have been a tough call. But maybe it was his chance to pretend he holds office during the Dark Ages or something.

House GOP Majority Leader Tom Boone, R-Peoria, triumphantly announced last Monday that the House would vote on a revised budget on Thursday, which came and went with no budget and no vote. Word is that Weiers has until this Wednesday to get his act together, or else the Senate will pass its budget and adjourn, leaving the House holding the bag, which could get rather toasty -- unless they figure out another way to pay the electric bill.

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