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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Budget hearing in Tucson

    Michael Slugocki, a political science senior and member of the Arizona Students Association, speaks to a panel of democratic legislatures during a public hearing forum addressing the public concerns of proposed budget cuts.
    Michael Slugocki, a political science senior and member of the Arizona Students’ Association, speaks to a panel of democratic legislatures during a public hearing forum addressing the public concerns of proposed budget cuts.

    Public education was named as a top priority for legislative democrats during a budget hearing hosted by the House Democratic caucus in the Amphitheater High School auditorium, and judging by remarks made by some of the more than 350 southern Arizona residents who turned out, Tucsonans agree.

    “”I would not have come to Tucson if it was not for the University of Arizona,”” said Sally Gunderman, who identified herself as a small business owner and supporter of the UA.

    UA students, staff and faculty are “”50,000 people that add to our economic environment,”” Gunderman said. “”The University of Arizona is the best thing that ever happened to southern Arizona – in fact, it might be the best thing that ever happened to Arizona. I wish I could speak to those Republicans – where are they?””

    Despite the distinctly partisan atmosphere at the Democratic Party-hosted event, several speakers from the audience identified themselves as registered Republicans, including Todd Jaeger, associate to the superintendent of the Amphitheater School District.

    “”There’s conservative, and there’s just plain ignorant,”” Jaeger said. “”This budget (proposal) was offered without considering the alternatives, such as our inequitable and unfair tax system. This is the very kind of smug elitism that the Republicans pretend offense to when it comes from the other side of the aisle.””

    UA professor and former state legislator Ted Downing, along with the rest of the public offered suggestions for making ends meet in tough times.

    “”We should have a pay cap for our state employees,”” Downing said. “”Some members of our universities, some members of our administration who are making more than President Barack Obama.””

    Downing also told legislators to look at ways to reduce prison populations and tax breaks for certain industries.

    “”The secret of state government is who doesn’t pay, not what we pay,”” Downing said.

    Although many who spoke specifically referenced education, other programs affected by cutbacks also received support from audience members. Issues ranging from senior and homebound services to state parks were argued for, but one of the hearing’s most emotional moments came as an impassioned woman stepped to the microphone on stage.

    “”My name is Leslie Evans, and I’m a survivor of domestic violence,”” she told legislators. “” If you take funding away from the women who use our shelters, who’s going to stand here to educate our children about domestic violence? … Because of these cuts, more people will die, and more children will grow up to think (domestic violence) is okay.””

    Following the forum, legislators expressed a mixture of optimism and frustration.

    “”The shortfall is a way for (the leadership) to do what they really want to do,”” Representative Phil Lopes D-Tucson (district 27) said, “”Take money away from the universities, because ‘we know you guys are just freeloading’ – we need to take money away from K-12, because ‘we know they don’t need all of that.’ … That’s the attitude they have, and that’s what’s going to happen.””

    As far as the Democratic alternative to severe cuts, Lopes summarized the approach in a sentence.

    “”I would do with the 2010 (budget) what I did with the 2008 and the 2007: You have to postpone, you have to suspend, you have to delay, you have to borrow – you do all of those things in order to not have the cuts be so deep,”” Lopes said. “”But you’re asking the wrong person. I don’t have any input.””

    Thursday night’s hearing was the latest in a series held across the state, including Phoenix, Yuma and Casa Grande. Still unscheduled but planned are hearings in Sierra Vista, Prescott, Flagstaff and another in Tucson, this time on the UA campus.

    Legislators differed on their approach to changing the course of the 2010 budget debate.

    “”I still think that we need to follow the lead of the university students,”” State Senator Paula Aboud D-Tucson(district 28) said. “”We need to rally and protest and get the attention of the governor … we need to have the state call the governor on the 800 number – 800-253-0883 – and give her their priorities. We need to fill up her answering machine every week. This governor is going to care what people think, because she wants to get reelected.””

    Lopes was considerably more direct, and more partisan, in his approach.

    “”People (tonight) talked about recall, people talked about going up there and demonstrating,”” Lopes said. “”I’m an old hippie – that stuff doesn’t work … People need to channel that anger and change the people who are making these decisions.””

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