The details emerging from Arizona's new budget — approved by state lawmakers late Thursday (March 11) — are staggering. More than 310,000 adults and 47,000 low-income children are slated to lose health insurance under the plan, which reduces spending by about $1.1 billion, eliminates full-day kindergarten and, according to The Arizona Republic , slashes funds "that were one of the last best hopes for the state parks system to stay afloat."
Arizona was listed just behind California as one of the most fiscally challenged states in the nation in a November report by the Pew Center on the States, the parent organization of Stateline.org . Thursday's budget bears that out.
The spending plan attempts to erase a $2.6 billion shortfall in the coming fiscal year by making deep cuts, which gathered the reluctant support of Republicans but were stridently opposed by Democrats. However, it is far from certain that the budget gap will be filled, because the plan relies on the assumption that voters will sign off on a temporary, 1-cent hike in the state sales tax hike in a special election May 18, Arizona's Capitol News Services points out . If that fails, the news service reports, "the plan calls for another $867.5 million in spending cuts, more than half of that in state aid to public schools."
What is striking about the plan is that it pushes back against mandates that voters directly imposed on lawmakers. For instance, the decision to remove 310,000 adults from the state's Medicaid rolls reverses a 2000 decision by voters to expand coverage. Lawmakers want voters to strip funding for early-education programs, but the electorate approved that funding in 2006.
Arizona's initiative system — because of the fiscal constraints it has placed on lawmakers — was cited as a key challenge for the state in the November report by Pew.
"We stand in a situation where, over the last decade, we grew government at a particularly fast pace because the money was there," Representative John Kavanagh, the Republican head of the appropriations committee, told Capitol News Services.