Ariz. Legislature's cuts could cost state $7 billion

On Sunday afternoon a natural disaster took place in our state of such magnitude that, well, most of us did not even feel it.

Yes, fellow Valley residents, we can now stand together as the proud survivors of the Arizona Earthquake of 2010.

However, while the ground’s tectonic tremors may have failed to effectively disrupt the livelihoods of Arizona residents, another far more serious catastrophe has recently taken place, the aftershocks of which may threaten to fiscally tear our state asunder.

I speak regrettably of Arizona’s ever-fumbling Legislature, which, earlier last month passed into law a budget aimed to close the state’s $2.6 billion fiscal year 2011 budget deficit.

Amid other equally draconian slashes, the budget called for the elimination of KidsCare, an organization that provided 47,000 Arizonian children from low-income families with health care.

As of March 12, KidsCare is no more, gleaning $22.9 million in annual revenue at the detriment of thousands of low-income families statewide.

Then comes the punch line.

According to the Arizona Capitol Times, those cuts may violate the “maintenance of effort” terms of the federal health care reform passed by Congress in mid-March, and thereby cost Arizona an additional $7 billion in annual federal funding for Medicaid.

Ladies and gentlemen you are now free to smash your palm firmly against your forehead, as our state government has not only shown its brilliance in attempting to raise revenue by denying thousands of low-income families medical coverage, but has prospectively tripled our fiscal deficit in the process.

Arizona cannot survive any more of Legislature’s careless one-time-fix solutions to its economic woes at the cost of its quality of living.

Instead, it needs to generate consistent and reliable sources of revenue growth.

While the state is cutting hundreds of thousands of Arizona citizens from its medical aid and $765 million of funding from its public education system, you can sleep well at night knowing that country club memberships, dog grooming prices and 4-inch pipes used to carry fuel and water will remain tax-free.

Arizona’s tax laws include $9.1 billion in tax exemptions, according to a report released late last year by the Department of Revenue, many of which have gone unchecked for decades.

“Modernizing and updating our tax code is key to the long-term success of Arizona,” Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix told the Tucson Sentinel last Friday.

This tax reform could take place overnight and generate hundreds of millions in desperately needed state revenue by simply adding expiration dates (known as “sunset clauses”) to tax laws.

Even so, there is little chance that such tax loopholes will be closed any time soon, Campbell said, because Republicans outnumber Democrats by 10 in the House and six in the Senate.

“If it’s more important to exempt 4-inch pipes from sales tax than it is to give children health care, that’s lost on me,” he said.

Our state’s policies are no longer drawn on common sense but instead upon partisan lines, and we and our generations to follow will inherit the hardships left in the wake of our predecessors’ blind adherence to their ideologies.

What Arizona needs now is constructive long-term reform backed by politicians with their hearts placed on the future of our state, not unyielding political dogma.

Is that so much to ask for?

Send Hal your thoughts at hscohen@asu.edu


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