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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Brewer approves cutbacks

    Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer approved a Republican-backed budget plan Saturday Jan. 31 in an attempt to close Arizona’s $1.6 billion midyear budget deficit. The plan calls for massive cuts in education and health care.

    The State Senate approved the six-bill package late Friday night, and the House of Representatives did the same early Saturday morning. Brewer signed the budget plan Saturday morning before leaving for Tampa, Fla. so she could attend the Super Bowl.

    According to the Associated Press, the plan would close the gap through three main elements: roughly $580 million in spending cuts, approximately $585 million in sweeps including the last $130 million in a “”rainy day reserve,”” and $500 million from federal economic stimulus legislation pending in Congress.

    “”We were unsuccessful in having legislators look at alternative forms of ways to generate revenue,”” Arizona Board of Regents President Fred Boice said. “”We also suggested for some roll-overs to give us additional time – but each of our suggestions were met with a ‘no’.””

    The budget entails $142 million in cuts to the universities, which is $40 million above the amount that university presidents said they could possibly handle as of Jan. 27.

    UA President Robert Shelton said the result of Saturday’s meeting is extremely bad news for education and the future of Arizona.

    “”Major changes and cuts will be needed for fiscal year 2010 and these will impact classes and costs,”” Shelton said via e-mail. “”My leadership team and I will work on details in the weeks ahead, using our Strategic Plan and Transformation Process as guides.””

    Boice said he hopes the Fiscal Alternative Choices Team (FACT) created by the board will come up with alternative plans to face the upcoming deficit.

    “”The legislature is expecting us to make $142 million worth of cuts in the ’09 budget that is already seven months old, “” Boice said. “”We are going to have to go about this in a very rapid way that does not constitute good government; we are going to have to lay people off and we are still unsure if we will receive federal stimulus money or not … This has put the universities and many other state agencies in a very difficult position of having to act of such large numbers in a very short time.””

    Legislators said that Arizona’s shortfall of 16 percent is due to the state’s decrease in tax collections. The national recession and the housing industry’s collapse has lead Arizona to obtain the largest deficit by percentage of any state. California is second with a 14.1 percent deficit.

    Republican House Speaker Kirk Adams said lawmakers needed to make tough cuts to clean up the financial mess that they made for themselves within the last year.

    “”Last June this body passed an irresponsible budget on borrowing and accounting gimmicks,”” Adams told the Associated Press. “”That bridge has collapsed into a colossal deficit that is larger than any other state in our nation.””

    According to the AP, the Arizona Education Association said the budget was passed too swiftly, which leads to the assumption that no other options were considered during the discussion process.

    “”They crafted this budget behind closed doors on Wednesday evening and rushed it through the process without consideration for any other revenue enhancement or financing options,”” said the Arizona Education Association.

    “”The speed in which this had to be done, I do not argue with,”” Boice said. “”I argue with how it was allocated and that the legislature didn’t do the things to mitigate the circumstance, but they just simply cut.””

    During numerous party-line votes in each chamber, Republicans beat back Democratic amendments to eliminate or reduce cuts. Also, according to the AP, half of the Congressional stimulus check intended for education will be put elsewhere.

    Already, Arizona State University has ordered its 12,000 employees to take furloughs of 10-15 days before June 30 and it has also not renewed contracts for hundreds of part-time faculty members.

    Attorney General Terry Goddard has laid off 20 workers, and according to the AP he said Thursday that the legislation would force more.

    Brewer said the spending in Arizona has increased from $6 billion to $10 billion in just five years, thus the solutions to the budget crisis are neither easy nor painless.

    Republican Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray, said that the cuts made were vital to keep Arizona’s head above water in national financial turmoil.

    “”We had a monumental task to complete and many interests to balance,”” Gray told the AP. “”The situation was serious but, ultimately we did what the state needed to keep from shutting down.””

    Extreme tension between the Republican and Democratic parties has been another dismal outcome of the budget construction process. Democratic officials said they support the search for other options to create revenue for the state, rather than across-the-board cuts, especially to education.

    With universities, K-12 and health programs taking the biggest hit, the AP said thousands of jobs are expected to be lost throughout state government.

    Democrat House Minority Leader David Lujan said the message Republican lawmakers have sent speaks loud and clear about their priorities, according to the AP.

    “”They chose to vote against children and middle-class families and those who stand to face the worst of burdens during the state’s economic crisis,”” said Lujan.

    “”I would hope that we could maintain the quality of education, and I know the three Presidents will work very hard to do that,”” Boice said. “” Where students may suffer is a reduction in class availability; students will incur a difficult time to graduate in four years.””

    Boice said tuition increases are conceivable, as well as less staffing and fewer student services available.

    “”Yes, I would think that students would feel the difference rather quickly,”” Boice said.

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