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Sat, June 15

Column: It's harder for average folks to feel jolly

With the holiday season upon us, it would be nice to find some much-needed solace from the harsh political landscape that has taken hold in the desert these days. Alas, Governor Brewer and the State Legislature have something more akin to a lump of coal in mind with the financial plan they're proposing for next year.

This is definitely not the sort of holiday package one might have hoped for at the end of a truly disconcerting period for the state.

First there was the news that the legislature plans to yank funding for transplant procedures. As recently reported in The New York Times, the Governor signed a law eliminating Medicaid coverage of certain kinds of transplants "as a cost-cutting measure." While this could save the state a relatively paltry $4.5 million, it will most likely result in the deaths of scores of people awaiting life-saving operations.

The Grinch himself would have a hard time doing worse than this.

Next up was the Governor's handpicked Privatization Committee, tasked with finding cost-saving measures by turning public parks into privately-operated endeavors. In a frightening harbinger of how our parks might be run under this plan, the same committee recommended more reliance on private prisons in Arizona, despite the convict escapes from such a facility that grabbed national headlines a few months ago.

Perhaps we can just turn the parks into prisons and solve two problems at once?

And then, just in time for the holiday festivities, comes the real kicker.

The Republican-dominated legislature is planning to unfurl a package of business tax cuts, including slashing corporate property and income taxes alike. This little gift to Corporate America was coupled with the blithely-reported insight "that some of the changes could increase the tax burden on individuals," effectively constituting another business bailout at the expense of ordinary people.

Our own Steve Pierce (R-Prescott) and Andy Tobin (R-Paulden) were among the leading proponents of the business tax cuts, with Pierce arguing that "we have no other options" and that it was crucial to continue making Arizona "a business-friendly state." For his part, Tobin dismissed concerns about individual tax liabilities rising to cover corporate tax cuts by noting that, "I don't know how mad somebody who's unemployed today will be if they get employed and have to pay some taxes."

Tobin concluded his assessment with the ominous observation that "there's going to be drastic budget cuts," likely including more belt-tightening for an already-strapped educational system plus further slashes to health care programs and other public services. Validating the Legislature's corporate tax scheme, the Governor announced a financial package that will create a $25 million state fund to provide grants to businesses, roll back state regulations, and partially privatize the state's Commerce Department.

Recall that the transplant program was axed because it came with a $4.5 million price tag, and yet more than five times that is being pledged to prop up corporate interests. These sorts of hardhearted, Scrooge-like policies point toward a season decidedly short on merriment.

Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D., is a faculty member at Prescott College in Peace and Justice Studies, chairman of the Master of Arts Program - Humanities, and executive director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association.

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