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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Arizona’s financial road less traveled

    Mike Morefield/columnist
    Mike Morefield/columnist

    Arizona has never been too good with money. Among its many “”issues”” were a governor who resigned and was jailed for extortion and bank fraud, and an alternative fuel tax credit that destroyed state finances. In the past, giving Arizona money to play with has been like giving a kid in a candy store money for books; despite its best intentions, Arizona always ends up blowing its money on lollipops.

    But Arizona now has the chance to make a significant surplus go toward a good, long-term use.

    With a sudden influx of property, income and sales taxes, Arizona has a $1.2 billion surplus it was not expecting and must now spend. Predictably, there are two major camps forming inside the state Legislature – those who want to lower taxes until the surplus disappears, and those who want to spend the money in a way that will help the state in the long run.

    Cutting taxes always sounds like a great idea, and it always gets people to the polls. Lowering property taxes would be beneficial in a state where property taxes have increased by 51 percent in the last two years. But by cutting the taxes that raised the surplus, Arizona would just be throwing it away. The proposals would not permanently change the taxes, only lowering them for two to three years. Would a two-year gap of lower taxes stimulate the economy? Maybe, but only in the short term – perhaps as long as a senator’s term lasts.

    Political maneuvering aside, senators must think of their state for the long term. Their actions don’t influence small companies or private firms as they do in their day jobs; this financial decision affects almost 6 million citizens. The only way to truly use the surplus wisely is to invest it back into our state’s biggest weakness: the education system.

    Gov. Janet Napolitano is leading the campaign to invest the surplus into state education funding. Currently, Arizona ranks 48th in the nation when it comes to per-student spending, beating only Utah and North Dakota.

    That’s pathetic for a state that excels in many other arenas. Arizona is home to two of the most important senators in Congress, one of the best job markets in the nation and some of the fastest growing cities in the country, but it still can’t find enough money to help students meet national reading standards.

    States that have cut their income taxes have seen job growth and fast economy growth, but Arizona is already rapidly growing under present taxes. In 2004, more jobs were created in Arizona than in any other state save Nevada. The state Legislature shouldn’t try to fix something that isn’t broken; it should try to mend a problem that has exponential growth for disaster.

    By providing an educational environment that can attract better teachers and allow for proper state-funded education, legislators will help create a stronger, smarter population. The surplus could move us much closer to the national average of per-student spending, showing Arizona’s dedication to the future.

    When you have extra money in your pocket, do you just live a little more extravagantly for a short time, despite a leaky roof and a late mortgage? No, you fix your problems so they will not cost you more in the long run. Arizona is at a vital financial juncture – it can allow money to stay in taxpayers’ pockets for a while longer or overcome one of the last great hurdles it faces to gaining national prominence.

    Education is the key to opportunity. Graduating an intelligent workforce that will drive companies to create jobs, fuel the state’s economy and perhaps create future surpluses is better than giving handouts in the form of tax breaks for a limited time. We have all benefited from our educations; it is time to allow future generations to do the same.

    Mike Morefield is a political science senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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