Column: Community opposed budget cuts
A remarkable event took place in Prescott two weeks ago, although you might not realize this if all you read was the Courier's coverage, which essentially stated that a group of unrealistic complainers got together with Democratic state legislators to talk about the current budget situation while excluding Republicans.
This was simply not the case.
Instead, what transpired at this forum was that a cross-section of the community - including many self-identified conservatives - voiced their concerns about the unprecedented budget-slashing machinations of the Republican-dominated Arizona legislature. Many of those who spoke were educators, lamenting the impact of radical cuts to their school budgets, but there also were social workers, health care providers, parents, and other interested parties in attendance as well.
Overwhelmingly, the sentiment expressed was that there is indeed a budget crunch at hand, but that the legislature has gone too far in its cuts and is focusing disproportionately on education and social services. Many audience members, and a few of the legislators present, openly noted that some of the Republicans at the State Capitol long have had these programs in their crosshairs, and are essentially using this crisis as an opportunity to promote an ideologically driven decimation. Indeed, there's evidence to support this proposition, not the least of which are statements from the legislators themselves showing a basic hostility toward the state's public infrastructure.
But let's move this debate beyond ideologies and political parties. Everyone ought to care about the provision of services to residents of the state, and an investment in education should be among the highest priorities in any healthy community. By undermining these programs in the present, we're only deepening the crisis that we'll face in the future. Every dollar not spent on education and children's services will lead to more dollars lost from those who won't reach their full potential as contributing members of society.
The people in attendance at the budget forum understood this, including local psychiatrist Ashok Nagella, who said: "I'm willing to pay more taxes if it goes to a good cause." Of course no one likes to pay higher taxes, but when it comes to matters such as education people are surprisingly open to the idea. In fact, a 2007 survey of 1,200 Arizona residents found that almost two-thirds would support a tax increase for such purposes. Yet today, even in the midst of a budget crisis, the legislature is looking to permanently repeal the state property tax.
President Obama recently visited Arizona to talk about foreclosures, asking us to bear in mind the interconnected nature of the problems we face, the ways in which our fortunes are intertwined with our neighbors', and how a dollar wisely spent today could save us more in the future.
These sentiments should serve as a wake-up call about the unthinking "slash and burn" policies presently being implemented, and hopefully will encourage more people to speak out at future public forums.
So let's set the record straight, and not allow self-anointed "realists" to shroud their shortsightedness.
Randall Amster teaches peace studies and social thought at Prescott College. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.