Liquidating Arizona

Targeting illegal immigrants! Cutting education funding! Chasing after Obama's birth certificate! It was another busy year for the Legislature

Was Jon Stewart right when he called Arizona "the meth lab of Democracy"?

Well, a lot of strange stuff got cooked up by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer, as the GOP took advantage of having full control of state government.

What's the biggest story of the session?

That had to be SB 1070, which overshadowed the deep cuts made to the state's budget.

Arizona's new immigration law was the brainchild of state Sen. Russell Pearce, who has been agitating against illegal immigration for more than a decade. SB 1070 basically puts local cops in the business of enforcing federal immigration laws. The law has its share of champions; polls show the law is popular, and several states are considering similar legislation.

But it also has its share of detractors, who are already working to overturn the law in court and to put public pressure on Arizona through boycotts of the state. (In the first week after Brewer signed the law, the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association reported that 19 events had already been cancelled, with an estimated $6 million impact to the state's economy.)

As we reported last week ("The Fallout," May 6), the long-term impact of the new law remains to be seen.

Before we get into the money stuff, let's talk about some of the other laws that were passed. I've always dreamed of building a factory to make incandescent light bulbs, but the federal government won't let me make them after 2014. Is there any hope for me?

It looks dim. State Sen. Frank Antenori pushed through a bill which allows the manufacture and sale of incandescent light bulbs in Arizona after new federal regulations approved by the Bush administration—which require energy-efficiency standards that the bulbs do not meet—go into effect. While Antenori has suggested that it might encourage light-bulb manufacturers to move to Arizona, the real aim is a court challenge of the federal government's authority over the states.

During debate on the bill, Antenori was asked if Arizona could produce its own nuclear weapons.

"As long as we kept it in the state of Arizona, and we didn't use it outside the state of Arizona, one could make that argument, I guess," Antenori said.

But Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill this week.

Speaking of overreaching federal authority: I'm tired of dealing with all those federal restrictions on my gun purchases.

Well, then buy Arizona guns! Lawmakers passed a law exempting any weapon manufactured in Arizona from federal regulation. But the guns will have to be stamped with the words "Made in Arizona," and the law doesn't include firearms that can't be carried and used by a single person.

Whether this law—which is similar to legislation passed in other states that feel oppressed by the federal government—will stand up in court remains to be seen.

Challenging federal authority was a big deal this session; Sen. Al Melvin, who represents the Catalina foothills and Oro Valley, introduced legislation that would have allowed Arizona to mine and use uranium as long as it remained within state lines. But that bill went nowhere.

What other gun freedoms were established?

You'll no longer need a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Arizona. You can still get a permit (and it can useful if you plan to carry a concealed weapon in another state), but it's no longer necessary to know anything about gun safety or legal liability.

Lawmakers also passed a law that prohibits cities and towns from prohibiting guns in parks or otherwise regulating firearms in ways that are more restrictive than state law.

And trap- and skeet-shooting clubs no longer have to pay property taxes as long as they are nonprofits that train shooters.

Hey, guns are great and all, but what about my rights to carry a knife?

Lawmakers were looking out for knife enthusiasts as well. They passed a bill nullifying any local restrictions on knives and knife manufacturing that were stricter than state regulations.

Were lawmakers able to create more restrictions on abortion?

They got a lot of that accomplished last year, by limiting who could perform the procedure and under what circumstances. This session, they were able to pass a law stating that counties, cities, towns and other government agencies could not offer insurance policies that cover abortions if taxpayer money pays for part of the coverage.

It's 5 a.m. on Sunday; I've been drinking all night long. Do I still have to wait until 10 a.m. to buy a drink?

You're in luck, Bukowski: Lawmakers voted to allow liquor sales at 6 a.m. on Sundays, to match the rest of the week.

For some reason, I've recently become increasingly worried that a secret Muslim who wasn't born in this country could somehow become president. Did lawmakers do anything to stop this from happening in the future?

They tried. A bill that would have required presidential candidates to show their birth certificates in order to be on the Arizona ballot passed the House of Representatives, but the Orly Taitz Act failed in the Senate.

I've been working hard in my home lab to splice my genes with my horse's genes to create a centaur. Can I continue my project?

You'll have to play God in another state, Frankenstein. Lawmakers made it illegal to create animal-human hybrids. The law also limits stem-cell research. The impact on Arizona's growing bioscience sector remains to be seen.

I'm worried that the libs might try to take away my right to hunt.

You'll have a chance to vote to amend the state Constitution to read that the "citizens of this state have a right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife lawfully." The proposed amendment would also limit restrictions on hunting and fishing.

What else do we get to vote on?

Lawmakers want you to change the name of the office of secretary of state to lieutenant governor, to make it more clear to voters that the secretary of state assumes the governor's seat if the governor leaves midway through a term. Turns out that kind of detail is pretty important, as we learned two years ago.

I'm really good at multitasking. Can I still text and drive?

Yep. In the name of freedom, lawmakers rejected efforts to ban texting while driving in Arizona.

Let's talk money. The state had a multi-billion-dollar shortfall when the session started. How did lawmakers resolve that?

Republican lawmakers were determined to not raise taxes, so they cut more than $1.3 billion in spending.

That sounds like a lot! What are Arizonans going to have to do without?

Well, you can say goodbye to $218 million in state support for all-day kindergarten; some districts will continue to offer all-day K using local funds.

State lawmakers cut another $55 million from other educational programs, including state support for GED and adult-education courses. Community colleges that offer those programs are scrambling to find other funding so they can keep federal matching funds that they will otherwise lose.

If you're mentally ill, you stand a chance of losing services that keep you functioning and out of jail; the state cut nearly $41 million from those programs.

If you're down on your luck, you're less likely to get help from the state, which hopes to save more than $66 million by tightening welfare-eligibility standards and making other cuts at the Department of Economic Security.

The Department of Water Resources, which is supposed to be ensuring our future water supply, took a hit of nearly $10 million and is on life support. The Department of Environmental Quality was cut by $5.7 million and is expected to primarily get by on fees charged to companies overseen by the agency.

The Arizona Commission on the Arts saw the $10 million left in its endowment snatched away.

If you're a state employee, you're looking at a 5 percent pay cut.

But all of that still doesn't make up for the entire shortfall.

That's where the temporary, one-cent-per-dollar sales tax comes in. If voters approve Prop 100 on May 18 (and we at the Tucson Weekly encourage you to do so), that will help bridge the gap.

What if voters reject the sales tax?

Lawmakers have an alternate budget in place that cuts another $862 million in spending, including $428 million from K-12 education, $107 million from the universities, about $150 million from health-care funding and more than $100 million from the criminal-justice system.

What other budget voodoo did they conjure?

Lawmakers are hoping that voters will give them permission to dip into funds that are now restricted to programs that purchase open space and fund early-childhood programs. If voters don't give them that authority in November, lawmakers will have a $469 million hole in the budget.

I'm a single mom with two kids, and I make less than $18,300 a year. Am I still eligible for health insurance?

For now. Republican lawmakers initially tried to cut $385 million from the budget by reducing eligibility for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, which is the state's version of Medicaid. That would have stripped an estimated 310,000 people of health insurance.

AHCCCS eligibility had been expanded by voters in 2000, from one-third of the poverty level up to 100 percent.

To save another $18 million annually, lawmakers also eliminated the state's KidsCare program, making Arizona the only state in the union that didn't participate in the federal program, which provides $3 in federal funding for every $1 spent by the state. As many as 47,000 kids would have lost health insurance.

These health-care cuts were opposed by business interests such as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which noted that cutting the government program would leave more people uninsured, which in turn would lead to financial losses by hospitals, which in turn would lead to higher insurance rates on private companies.

It was also opposed by Democrats, who argued that lawmakers couldn't lower eligibility levels set by voters. Republicans argued that the proposition approved by voters said that the state would use "available funds" for the program—and there were no available funds, because the state was broke.

Before that legal argument got tested in the courts, Republican lawmakers reversed course and restored the program through June 30 of next year, because the health-care reform passed by Congress required states to keep up their programs, or lose federal funding.

Where did the $385 million come from to restore the program? Republicans are hoping that Democrats in Congress will agree to provide states with enough money to keep the health-care programs alive through the end of this fiscal year. The funding has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, but the Senate has not yet approved the bill.

But even if the federal government acts this year, it's anyone's guess where the money will come from in future years.

Speaking of that federal health-care plan: Are state lawmakers doing anything to stop Democrats from carrying out their scheme to insure more Americans?

Republican legislators gave Gov. Jan Brewer the green light to sue the federal government over the health-care reform package. The legal arguments revolve around whether the feds can force states to offer expanded coverage and require citizens to buy health insurance.

Attorney General Terry Goddard said that he wouldn't sue the feds, because the grounds were frivolous, but an April Rasmussen survey showed that 59 percent of voters supported the idea of a lawsuit.

Given that Goddard is the likely Democratic candidate for governor, look for more debate on that topic in the months to come.

What's going on with Arizona's state parks?

State parks are an excellent example of how the Republican attitude toward governance has changed over the last two decades. When Republican Fife Symington was governor in the 1990s, he made a push to make the park system self-sustaining so the parks wouldn't be a drain on the general fund. Managers of the parks did a remarkable job of weaning themselves from tax dollars and learning to support themselves through entrance fees, special funds (such as the State Lake Improvement Fund, which directed a portion of gas taxes toward parks under the belief that a certain amount of gas taxes were paid by boaters) and other sources, such as the Heritage Fund, which directed $10 million annually in lottery funds toward the parks at the behest of voters.

Park officials were able to make money at some parks and use those extra dollars to sustain parks that were not profitable, but still important to residents in rural areas, whether as recreational spots or tourist draws.

But as part of their solution to the financial crisis, Republican lawmakers swept the money that the Parks Department had in its accounts, and took away the Heritage Fund dollars, leaving the department barely able to pay its day-to-day bills. And then, in order to keep some parks in business, they passed a bill farming out the profitable parks to private interests or local communities—which makes it even harder to find money to keep the other state parks open in the future.

Won't closing state parks hurt tourism and the businesses that depend on it?

Yes, and so will eliminating $10.6 million in support for the Department of Tourism, but lawmakers did that anyway. Of course, lawmakers can always blame the new immigration law for the upcoming drop in visitors from out of state.

What happened to the big tax cut proposed by House Speaker Kirk Adams?

Adams' tax cut, which he dubbed the Arizona Jobs Recovery Act, involved cutting income taxes, corporate taxes and property taxes. Adams set up the plan to kick in over several years, obligating future legislatures to the tax breaks, no matter what impact those breaks had on state finances. The cost in the first year would be $171 million, but would rise to $941.8 million by fiscal year 2017, according to estimates from the Joint legislative Budget Committee

However, Senate President Bob Burns demonstrated an admirable bit of fiscal restraint by refusing to go along with the plan. It died after being watered down in the Senate Finance Committee.

How are the state's finances these days?

We appear closer to hitting the bottom. Sales taxes were 4.6 percent lower in March 2010 than in March 2009, which was the 26th straight month of declines. But the declines have dropped to just single digits in recent months, and retail taxes actually saw a slight increase for the first time since November 2007. (That was offset by big drops in contracting sales-tax collections.)

At the end of March, the state was about $30 million behind a revised forecast. Overall, the state is expected to see a drop in revenues of 12 percent over last year.

State economic forecasters see a 3.4 percent increase next year, but we're a long way from recovery. It's expected to take three to five years just to get back to where the state was before the economic slowdown started in 2007.

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