Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Arizona Budgets on the Backs of the Poor

by Pa Rock
Arizona Taxpayer

Arizona's Republican Governor, Jan Brewer, and the Republican majority in our legislature have been struggling with a way to balance the state's budget, all the while ignoring the Democrats. That might work if Brewer could come up with a plan that would keep all of her GOP legislative cats in one herd, but this governor doesn't have that level of political skill. If she is ever going to get anything done, she will have to come off of her high horse and deal with the opposition.

By law, the state's budget must be balanced by June 30th each year. The governor and her apologists are whining loudly that they have cut away all of the fat, and there is nothing left to cut. And even with all of that brutal budget hacking (mostly on social programs, education, and services that would benefit the poor), the state is still somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion dollars short of where it needs to be.

(Remember the famous quote of the late Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois? When talking about national expenditures, he said: "A billion here, a billion there. Before you know it we're talking real money!")

It looks as though it may only take one billion to bring Arizona to its sandy knees.

Governor Brewer's response to this awful financial situation is to propose a tax increase. Knowing that Republicans will be damned near impossible to convince to support a tax of any kind, she went straight to the tax option that would place the least burden on Republican constituents - the comfortably wealthy. Yes, our governor is proposing a "temporary" sales tax increase of one cent.

I'm philosophically opposed to sales taxes because they put the biggest burden on the poor. The working poor must spend all or almost all of their income on survival, whereas the comfortably wealthy can get by spending a much smaller percentage of their incomes on survival. Apparently the governor is so concerned about the nutty teabaggers who were spawned and encouraged by her party, that she is pressuring the Republican legislature to pass the tax increase without a public vote.

So, to recap, the governor wants to pass a "temporary" tax (What are the chances of any tax being temporary?), she wants to avoid the knuckle-dragging voters in her own party by getting the legislature to impose the tax on the public, and the legislators that she needs to pull off this banditry are Republicans - people who have been grandstanding against taxes and public services for generations!

Lots of luck with that goofy plan, Jan!

Today I was listening to the local National Public Radio station, KJZZ, during lunch. They have a mid-day public affairs program called Here and Now. Today's topic was the state's current budget mess. Panelists included Eileen Klein, Governor Brewer's Chief of Staff and her former Budget Director, Alan Maguire, a local economist, and Dana Naimark, the President and CEO of the Children's Action Alliance - a local advocacy group for children. All expressed support for the sales tax.

Panelists pointed out that Arizona has low homeowner property taxes and income taxes compared to other states. Not surprisingly, at least to me, our state is in the top ten nationally on it's sales tax burden. The budget is already sitting squarely on the backs of the poor.

But the biggest surprise came from a caller, not one of the panelists. A fellow named Dennis phoned in and mentioned that sales tax is regressive (yea, Dennis!), and he went on to point out that Arizona currently has sales tax exemptions for over one hundred items. The exemptions don't include things that would make sense, like medicine, but did take in many toys of the rich. According to Dennis, items exempted from sales tax in Arizona include spa treatments, golf carts, memberships in country clubs, and merchandise that is sold in country club gift shops.

No shit?

But not one panelist disputed what Dennis had to say.

Arizona needs to be forced to come to grips with its budget crisis through realistic measures. Selling state buildings and then leasing them back is not realistic - especially if there is no long term plan to generate money to pay the leases. (Will we see the day when the state legislature is home to a flea market?) Increasing the tax burden on the poor is also a dimwit plan. Eventually the poor will reach a breaking point and move on to some state that is not so Draconian - and then we can clean our own damned toilets!

Nobody likes taxes, but they are a necessity if we value things like schools, roads, hospitals, libraries, and even prisons. We all benefit from taxes, and we all need to contribute our fair share to make society run. Property and income taxes are much more equitable than sales taxes, and sooner or later the Arizona legislature is going to have to come to grips with that reality.

BTW Jan, if the sales tax increase, temporary or otherwise, goes to a vote of the public, you can count on me to vote against it. I will also vote against any politician who supports raising revenue on the backs of the poor. That's just the kind of guy I am - a patriotic Arizonan!

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