Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Republicans Put Special Interests Ahead of the State Budget

Governor Jan Brewer and Legislative Republicans will put special interests ahead of the state budget in order to call a special session tomorrow at 1 p.m. The bill will be first read and assigned to committee tomorrow and heard in committee on Tuesday.

Below is an Op-Ed by Sen. Garcia that ran in the East Valley Tribune on Monday.

GOP lawmakers pander again to private schools

Ask any Arizonan on the street these days what the number one priority of lawmakers should be and you will likely get the answer that Senate Democrats would give: budget, budget and budget.

Republican legislative leadership seems to have a different idea. On Thursday, the Arizona Republic reported that Republican legislators are calling on Governor Jan Brewer to hold a special session to expand the scope of the state corporate income tax credit for contributions to private school tuition organizations (STOs).

Expanding STO contributions allows corporations to divert their tax dollars away from the state and into private schools costing the state nearly $12 million in the 2008 fiscal year, and combined with the individual credit, $67.3 million in tax dollars went to private schools last year.
In addition, if the Governor signs the bill by Tuesday, it will be just in time for the Center for Arizona Policy annual fundraiser featuring former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. CAP has stated their support for private school vouchers and made it a top priority. The priority appears to be pandering to right wing conservatives in order to make sure they have something to cheer about at a fundraiser.

Given the statewide outrage over the recent $100-plus million cuts to K-12 and higher education, Arizonans might be startled to know that the state gave away millions in taxpayer dollars to private schools last fiscal year. These funds helped to pay for 29,539 students to attend private schools, according to a new report issued by the Alliance for School Choice. Arizona is No. 1 in giving away private school vouchers and No. 49 in per pupil spending for public education according to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Now, even conservative organizations cannot deny that Arizona is bad at funding public education.

According to Rep. Steve Yarbrough and Sen. Thayer Verschoor, this is still not enough. When Arizona is facing a $3 billion budget shortfall, they would rather focus their energies on protecting a special interest group. In fact, for Yarbrough it is more than a passing interest. He happens to own one of the largest beneficiaries of these tax credits in the state, the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization. More money for them means more money for him.

This situation speaks for itself regarding Republican priorities in Arizona. We have slashed social services to the bone. Arizonans who need our help are not getting it because of their unwillingness to this point to explore any options besides deep and draconian cuts.
They are, however, willing to place the state further in jeopardy in order to cater to big business and line their own pockets. That this would even be considered, let alone enacted, in times like these is unconscionable.

This proposal says to me that Republican legislative leaders are beholden to their ideology first and the people of Arizona second. This is an ideology that puts the interests of corporations above all else; that believes government has no capacity to do good and therefore must be weakened until it is destroyed.

As they slash away at what is left of Arizona’s social safety net for working families, they flatter themselves by saying that they are the ones brave enough to make the “tough choices” required to save the state.

But “tough choices” have two sides. We are here largely because of a Republican failure to make the “tough choice” to say no to corporations and their unceasing demand for favors from the state.

This course has only one inevitable conclusion: a government that can provide nothing because it has nothing. But hey, those private schools sure will be nice.

Sen. Jorge Luis Garcia (D-27) is the Senate Democratic Leader.

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