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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Cut prisons or schools? It shouldn’t be this hard

Arizona’s facing an ugly budget battle, and higher education is looking like just another drafted casualty in the war against deficits.

But don’t worry about it, Rep. John Kavanagh. It’s totally cool. I’ve only been hanging out in college to kill time, since I couldn’t find anything to watch on TV. I didn’t actually want that whole degree thing anyway.

According to Arizona Daily Star reporter Becky Pallack, the budget cut could be as large as $200 million. Making up that loss would force the UA to cut 25 percent of its entire payroll, or raise tuition by $9,000, roughly doubling the cost of in-state tuition. Neither will be met with support by the public, but the Legislature refuses to explore other options.

Kavanagh, the Arizona House Appropriations chairman, told the Daily Star that cutting university funding was one of a limited number of options for solving the state’s deficit problem.  The state universities haven’t cut out enough administrative bloat, he said, and they would be able to compensate for the loss in funding by simply raising tuition costs some more.

There is nothing new about a politician who brushes aside education as soon as money gets tight. Nor is anyone surprised by the earnest student who begs him to hear cheesy variations of “”America’s students are America’s future.””

What is new is the politician who is also an educator. Kavanagh is a professor of criminal justice at Scottsdale Community College and a former instructor at Arizona State University. I respect Kavanagh’s position as a legislator, but wonder about his perspective as a teacher. All jokes about his affiliation with ASU aside, his rationalization for cutting university funding because tuition can make up for the loss is baffling. As a professor, Kavanagh knows firsthand who’s affected by tuition increases.

Students are being prepared to enter a workforce, one that has to be educated and skilled to attract job-creating businesses to the state. Ironically, such businesses would shape a healthy economy. Strange how that works out.

Rep. Bill Konopnicki, who will leave the Legislature in January, and Rep. Cecil Ash proposed an alternative: Cut funding for state prisons by reconsidering sentencing laws. Ash has vowed to propose legislation next year that would loosen mandatory-sentencing laws to save Arizona millions of dollars spent on non-violent criminals.

Prison costs are 10 times what they were 30 years ago, and the population has just doubled since then, according to an article by The Associated Press. Budget analysts have suggested diverting offenders to treatment programs and probation, and returning fewer parolees to prison for violations.

A fellow GOP legislator, Sen. Ron Gould, vowed to block Ash’s proposal. Sentencing laws are difficult to change because legislators don’t want to look soft on crime, Konopnicki said. But sacrifices are an unpleasant necessity for everyone when money becomes scarce, and no one can argue with that. The argument applies to education. It also applies to the criminal justice system.

It’s not an ideal scenario. Ideally, the budget wouldn’t be a mess to begin with. Realistically, I’m in college. Sometimes I pay for meals with loose change, and it’s not always all quarters. I wasn’t always like this, but then I got my first tuition bill. Raising tuition is not how the universities will compensate for the loss of state funding.

It’s how students will. Cut funding for state prisons first.

— Kristina Bui is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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