Saturday, March 21, 2015

Let's look at the budget ... shall we?

In my previous blog, I hammered the process used by AZ Gov. Doug Ducey and the GOP-controlled legislature.  Now, let's look at the budget itself.  The best article on the subject comes from the Tucson Weekly.  It's clear, very understandable and doesn't contain all the gobbledegook that causes eye strain.  To read it ... click here.  Full credit goes to writer Jim Nintzel and any other Tucson Weekly writer who may have contributed to the article.

I'm going to boil Nintzel's article down to an even more concise overview of Ducey's budget ... the budget he rammed down our throats in the wee hours of the morning, without the "transparency" he so promised in his election campaign.

  • Education was nailed left and right, top to bottom, with nearly $100 million coming just from the three state universities.  Even some top conservatives are critical of what Ducey and his minions have done.  What will the monstrous cuts to education do to this state?  I'm going to let you think about it for a bit - and make sure to include Arizona's economy when you do your thinking.
  • The Social Safety Net in AZ - whack!!  Remember the big stink when lawmakers discovered that several thousand reports of child abuse had not been investigated?  Remember when former Gov. Jan Brewer created a new agency to handle all that?  Well ... Ducey and the GOP yanked $11 million from that new agency.  Now we know how the governor feels about Arizona children.  Of course, they can't vote.  Many other social safety net programs were slashed, too, leaving many Arizona families ... where?  I can't even imagine.
  • Cities and counties will have to pick up the tab.  Hey ... if state funding to cities and counties is reduced, who do you think will have to pay the bill?  Oh ... that's right.  YOU will pay the bill in higher county/city/town fees, fines, and taxes.
  • Prisons and prison operators are cheering!  They got a whopping increase of about $39 million.  Perhaps Ducey knows he has to prepare for more prison space due to his cuts to education?  Now that is forward thinking!
  • More tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.  Well, come on ... you shouldn't be surprised.  Ducey campaigned on that!  It's simple math.  If you cut taxes, you cut the money coming in to pay for state government.  From the Tucson Weekly article:  "... the Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates that in fiscal year 2017, they [tax cuts] will cost $190 million more than in the current year, and in the following year, they will cost $267 million more than the current year."  Wow ... want to guess what future Republican budgets will look like?
  • Democrats were left out of the process!  Okay, one Democrat voted for the budget, but he got a nice chunk of change for a project in his district.  Let's put it this way:  If you were opposed to this budget, you were not represented in the process because your representatives or senator were not included in the process.  
In a prepared statement, Ducey said,  "This is the job Arizonans hired us for, and I'm proud we were able to get it done in a responsible, swift and bipartisan manner."

Three lies in one sentence!  1) No, Arizona didn't hire you to gut education and social safety net programs and we didn't hire you to keep ignoring the middle class and the poor.  2) This budget was not created through responsible governing because the future of Arizona has been ignored.  3) Bipartisan - that's a laugh.

The only truth to Ducey's statement is that the process was swift.  

The ramifications of his work, however, will last a very, very, very long time.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Governing? I don't think so!

Recently, Arizona saw a great example of political maneuvering, manipulation and intimidation.  

Let me rephrase that:  Arizona saw the result of political maneuvering, manipulation and intimidation.

Okay, let me try again:  Arizona will soon experience the result of political maneuvering, manipulation and intimidation.

I'm talking about the recently-passed Arizona State Budget, a document that stipulates how $9.1 billion will be spent in the next fiscal year.  I can't give details because 1) I don't have them, 2) I wouldn't understand much of it.  

Of course, when it was passed in the wee hours of the morning, some lawmakers hadn't had enough time to really read it and understand all the complexities involved in the document, either.

Let me talk, instead, about how Arizona's GOP governor and legislative leadership worked to get the budget passed in both chambers.  They worked, part of the time, behind closed doors.  This, from a governor who promised "transparency" in his administration.  Uh, huh.  And you know something? We'll never know the full story about the deals that were struck - and the threats made - in an effort to get the governor's budget passed!

But let me make some guesses.  And since I wasn't at the State Capitol when the budget was being discussed, and certainly didn't have any video cams or tape recorders set up, these are guesses.  However ... my suppositions are based on many years covering the Arizona State Legislature in the news media.  I know how it works because I've seen it first hand.

I'll bet the governor met with the GOP leadership of both chambers ... he outlined what he (and his campaign contributors) wanted and they hashed out a few details, coming up with a budget they thought would fly.  And since the GOP controls the House and Senate, this just might be a slam dunk!  Whoopee! 

But there was a problem, you see.  Not all Republicans liked the drastic cuts to education ... and hundreds of pesky constituents showed up at the State Capitol - twice - to protest those cuts.  They also emailed, sent faxes and made phone calls voicing opposition to the budget bill. Those silly soccer moms, teachers, administrators and college students just might actually show up to vote in 2016 when all 90 Arizona legislative seats are up for grabs!

That, according to my script, is when the deals were made.  And maybe some threats, too.  Enter the Majority Whip, stage right.

The Majority Whip is the "enforcer," who typically offers inducements and threatens party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party line. A whip's role is also to ensure that the elected representatives of their party are in attendance when important votes are taken - or to make sure lawmakers stay home if they don't want to play ball.

Here are some of the tactics that the whip and the majority leader (and many times even the governor) will use in order to get the "right" votes from their party members.  And I'll bet you they were used in spades as the GOP rounded up enough votes to pass the Arizona budget bill: 

+ Vote the way we want you to vote or your bills/special projects will never see the light of day.  We will bury them! 
+ Want party campaign money to help you get re-elected?  Vote our way or get nothing! 
+ If you vote our way, then your district will get that special funding you want.  Your fault if the money doesn't come your way! 
+ Still don't want to do it our way?  Then just get sick and stay home so your vote won't hurt us.  Otherwise, you'll pay in some way down the line!  

Do I know this went on at the State Capitol before the budget vote?  No.  Did it probably happen?  Yes.  Why?  Because it's happened before and it will happen again (especially since outside money is playing a huge role in Arizona elections).

This is not governing.  Governing is making sure everyone is heard - and that all of us are represented.  My two representatives and one senator are all Democrats.  Basically, they were left out of the process so I was left out of the process!  Most Arizonans had no voice in those closed-door sessions and the deal-making.

Governing is talking, debating, compromising, listening, and making sure everyone is given the opportunity to participate in the process so that democratic representation truly takes place.  But that didn't happen with regard to the budget.  The self-imposed time line was so short that it was difficult for all the lawmakers to even read the amendments, let alone discuss/debate them!  But you see, the Republicans had to move fast in order to shut down more protests from regular folks like you and me.

Yes ... Arizonans will soon experience the result of political maneuvering, manipulation and intimidation.  I hope they remember that in 2016.