Talk of the Town: Legislature faced tough decisions
I want to elaborate about the education cuts the Legislature had to make to reconcile the fiscal year 2009 budget shortfall.
It is apparent that many have misconceptions about these cuts and I hope to shine light on those misunderstandings.
We are in the midst of the worst budget crisis in our state's history. As legislators, we have to make tough decisions that, while not popular, will best serve all Arizona citizens.
We are working as a body to correct Arizona's steep budget crisis during this economic downturn, but we have only three viable options: increasing taxes, borrowing money, or reducing spending.
Times of recession call for conservation. Increasing taxes likely would prolong this recession, or, even worse, push it into a depression. Likewise, borrowing money would only delay the problem, hurt the overall financial health of our state and essentially mortgage our children's future.
Currently, taxpayers substantially subsidize the college tuition rate in Arizona. This means that the cost to students is considerably less than the actual cost of education and, unfortunately, much of this money comes from families and businesses who are already struggling to stay afloat in this recession.
Ultimately, in resolving the current year's $1.6 billion budget deficit, we cut only a little more than 4 percent of the overall education budget. A significant portion of the education cuts are rollbacks of spending increases made over recent years when our accounts were flush with cash from continued economic growth.
In fact, these increases illustrate the importance and value that legislators have placed on education. It also is obvious in the increases in education spending, which has climbed about 50 percent over the past five years, and increases in K-12 spending for day-to-day operations by 33 percent per pupil (adjusted for inflation) from $2.4 billion in 2000 to $5.1 billion in 2009.
Many are using statistics to advance a large quantity of information about education spending. Unfortunately, perspectives based on the use of certain education statistics can lead to a misinformed public, particularly about how we rank among other states.
Arizona actually ranks first in the nation in average salary of instructional staff on a per-capita income basis as well as 21st in the total dollars spent on K-12.
Arizona's constitution explicitly requires a balanced budget, and that limits our options.
Amid our current fiscal crisis, we had to make reductions to education, which makes up almost 60 percent of the budget, or health/human services and public safety, which account for another 35 percent. That leaves only 5 percent to work with - at a time when we are as much as 30 percent short!
As difficult as these decisions may be, and as painful as they may feel in the short-term, reducing spending is necessary to preserve the long-term vitality of our education system.
Steve Pierce is the state senator representing Legislative District 1. He also is a longtime local rancher and former county Republican chairman.
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