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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    No wonder we don’t have a balanced budget yet

    Gov. Jan Brewer waited in her office on June 30, counting down the hours as state leaders crammed into the legislature, praying that the state budget would be resolved by midnight, in time to send a viable budget to Brewer for approval.

    Almost a month later, Brewer is still waiting … and so am I.

    Bogged down by the current state budget tug-of-war occupying the state and the media, I set out to find out exactly what those associated with the UA are doing to ensure universities end up on the right side of the state budget, once it is fully balanced.

    You would think a simple question of, “”What are you doing to make sure we don’t get screwed?”” (not verbatim, obviously) would be met with a simple answer of how we’re being stuck up for at the Capitol.

    As I soon found out, a straight answer can be elusive.

    A little background on the budget as it currently stands.

    Having vetoed measures she told the legislature she would – most notably, a disagreement over whether or not a tax-increase measure should be included in the November ballot – Brewer approved just enough measures to keep the state from shutting down.

    Article IX of the Arizona Constitution requires a balanced budget, but does not indicate how to enforce such a constraint.

    As a result, we are left with political grandstanding under the guise of necessary ideology, a childish he-said-she-said attitude on the floor of the State Capitol.

    State leaders have turned it into a party issue; their constituents, though, just want a balanced budget.

    Uncertainty with the legislature has led to uncertainty for the rest of the state, with institutions spending money they are not even sure they will have once the budget is resolved.

    So, like Brewer, we’re left to wait. And wait.

    While waiting, I decided to turn to UA officials, student leaders, and lobbyists.

    While President Robert Shelton told the Summer Wildcat this week that the university does have a budget for the upcoming year “”in principle,”” questions still remain over such issues as education stimulus money, a large portion of which the state had to borrow because of concerns that the state may not meet certain requirements for the stimulus dollars.

    For example, in order for states to receive federal stimulus money, they must show a “”maintenance of effort”” in financial support for state higher education. Possible sweeps of UA-maintained funds and uncertainty in education funding and spending could show a possible failure of this “”maintenance of effort,”” thus disqualifying the state from federal stimulus money.

    Over the past few months, Arizona’s public universities have all released letters to the public expressing their intention to sue the state legislature, should the state be disqualified from stimulus money due to acts of state leaders.

    The Arizona Board of Regents has expressed similar sentiments, with Regent David Martinez III telling the Summer Wildcat, “”The Regents are willing to take that to court if necessary.””

    Even with the looming danger to education in Arizona – both K-12 and of the higher variety – Brewer has stayed true to her word and continues to defend opposition to fund sweeps and lax education funding, something the UA expects the governor to continue.

    “”Regarding the state budget, like everyone else, I remain keen on reaching closure that is viable,”” Shelton told the Summer Wildcat. “”We remain in good contact with legislators and the governor’s staff as they wrestle with this topic, and I continue to believe that the governor’s strong support for education overall and higher education as it relates to the UA will remain.””

    So the UA continues to wait.

    OK, no answers there. Let’s try the Arizona Board of Regents Office.

    Likewise for the Regents, besides staying in contact with state leaders, there is little the Board can actually do until the budget is balanced, said Andrea Smiley, representative for the Regents.

    The Regents are forced to take a “”wait-and-see approach”” currently, Smiley said.

    So the Board of Regents waits, as do I.

    Lobbying on behalf of the universities to the legislators, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona and the Arizona Students Association have been in contact with UA administrators and have a presence at the Capitol, said Chris Nagata, ASUA president.

    “”The university is advocating, doing everything they can,”” Nagata said.

    This presence at the Capitol, as noted by Nagata, includes former ASUA President Erin Hertzog as ASA’s main lobbyist.

    The following is an excerpt of an email I sent to Hertzog, as I was refused her phone number and told the best chance at a response would come via email:

    “”I understand that you are a presence for the UA at the Capitol, and I was wondering, what kind of efforts are you currently putting forth up there to make sure the universities don’t get the short end of the stick in the current budget uncertainty?””

    No response came. Over a week later, I’m still left waiting for one.

    Basically, from what I’ve been able to deduce from meetings, phone calls, transcripts from the legislature and emails is that advocating on the part of the UA lies mainly with “”keeping in contact”” with other leaders who don’t have a vote on the floor of the legislature, and everyone is doing “”everything they can”” to make sure the universities will come out of the budget crisis on top, despite being forced to take a “”wait-and-see approach.””

    For not being politicians (yet), they sure have the lingo down. There’s only one problem. None of it means a goddamn thing.

    I still have no idea what the UA, Regents, student leaders and lobbyists are doing for us at the Capitol, so I’m left to sit here and wait – always waiting, still waiting for an answer from a group of people whose words do little more than bounce off the eardrum.

    Now I know how the governor feels.

    Shain Bergan is the news editor for the Arizona Summer Wildcat. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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