The Biden/Harris administration is ignoring established budget tradition in their determination to spend yet more money.
Since the Reagan era, each federal budget has included a list of achievable spending cuts. The final Obama/Biden budget boasted of their averaging 140 cuts, saving $22 billion, yearly. Then-VP Biden headed up these cost cutting efforts as he did the spending reductions in the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Obama praised Biden‘s leadership in the Campaign to Cut Waste, calling him “the right man to lead it because nobody messes with Sheriff Joe.”
So Biden was justified in campaigning on his record of cost-cutting, which he did (although overall spending never fell during his tenure). But, as we have seen on almost every front, the rhetoric of candidate Biden meant nothing.
His initial budget was the first in 40 years to not include a section on savings. Instead, he withdrew President Trump’s final 73 rescissions, which would have saved taxpayers $24.4 billion, including several, such as the Commission on Fine Arts and the Presidio Trust, that had been included in earlier Obama/Biden reductions. His address to Congress in April in lieu of the SOTU contained no mention of waste reduction, nor has any other communication so far.
The contrast is striking. In 2011, President Obama proposed a $4 trillion deficit reduction over 12 years. We now know he fell far short of the mark, yet 10 years later, President Biden proposed a $14.5 trillion increase in deficits over 10 years. Success seems quite probable this time.
What’s going on here? Biden’s inference that there is no waste available in federal spending is laughable. State and local governments are awash in newfound largess. Unemployed beneficiaries have received so much compensation that millions have understandably quit their jobs.
Americans in no financial stress, nursing home residents and dead people by the millions have received COVID stimulus checks. Meanwhile, the Department of Education, an inconsequential agency that has overseen the decline of American education at all levels despite a massive funding surge, was given a $67 billion boost.
The tsunami of spending is relentless. Our national debt has now reached $28 trillion, including a 30 percent increase from spending on the Covid shutdowns alone. Federal spending this fiscal year is about $8 trillion, fully half of which will be put on the tab.
Biden’s next budget is $6 trillion, plus $6 trillion or so of additional spending on anticipated campaign promises. If Biden’s budget plan is adopted, the projected national debt would be $44,800,000,000 by 2031. Moreover, the current value of obligations to finance legal entitlement programs is $132 trillion more.
We are clearly on an unsustainable course. Easy money and goosing the economy with government spending can only take us so far. Eventually, our luck will run out when interest rates return to normal, creditors run out of confidence, inflation and lack of productivity gains take their toll or all of the above.
Technology may help some to delay the deterioration of our standard of living. But our descendants will be far worse off and America will be permanently damaged from our foolish selfishness.
Yet there is a preternatural calmness in Washington circles over the consequences of pushing massive debt out to future generations. When the ruling Left discusses their multi-trillion dollar spending proposals, they typically don’t bother to address the revenue problem. The fact that they are politically popular (and Biden’s “free” spending proposals are) is rationale enough in Dem World.
The spenders act as if spending itself is a social good. Deeply in debt, they spend for unnecessary frills like taxpayer-supplied benefits for illegal immigrants and middle class social programs.
They profess to believe that money will always be available so long as government can figuratively print more, but that is patently ludicrous. More likely, they just don’t care.
These are people who fervently believe in the power of Big Government to make life better, the overwhelming evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. The more money that is spent on anything, the larger their constituent base grows. As in the border crisis, the chance to maintain power drives policy.
Literally nothing else matters.
Dr. Thomas Patterson, former Chairman of the Goldwater Institute, is a retired emergency physician. He served as an Arizona State senator for 10 years in the 1990s, and as Majority Leader from 93-96. He is the author of Arizona’s original charter schools bill.
On Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey signed what he called “a fiscally conservative, forward-looking budget” for Fiscal Year 2022, cutting taxes for all taxpayers for every Arizona taxpayer no matter what their income.
“While we’re giving money back to taxpayers, this budget makes responsible, targeted and substantial investments in the things that matter,” Ducey said. “Under this budget plan, Arizona is paying off more than $1 billion in debt, we’re helping to protect families with the most sweeping child care package in the nation, and we’re making record investments in K-12 and higher education, infrastructure, public health and public safety.”
Ducey received high marks for the budget from the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, particularly the transition of Arizona’s income tax system from a tiered rate to a 2.5 percent flat rate over a three-year period starting Jan. 1, 2022. There are also provisions in the budget for nearly $1 billion in debt payments, as well as another $1 billion to reduce Arizona’s pension liabilities.
Public safety was also a major part of the budget, with $1.5 billion allocated for things like border security and other critical safety investments such as body cameras, increased recruitment funding, and cybersecurity.
K-12 funding was another priority for Ducey, with more than $6 billion allocated, including $47.2 million to develop early literacy programs for children across the state, $30 million for school transportation, and $50 million in student disability aid. One K-12 education bill, HB2898, signed by Ducey makes it easier for families to utilize Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) to help fund lower-income students who wish to attend private schools.
“Arizona’s budget puts students first,” Ducey said after signing HB2898. “Under this plan, we will continue to ensure K-12 students, teachers and schools have resources necessary to help Arizona kids excel in and out of the classroom.”
I was proud to sign #HB2898 today to strengthen Arizona’s leadership in school choice, expand opportunities for families, and help students thrive in the classroom. Thank you, @recobbforazrep and @PaulDBoyer, for taking the lead on legislation that improves Arizona’s ESA program! https://t.co/zbuPzkPqs0
Ducey has several other bills on his desk which were transmitted this week by the Legislature. Many are do-overs of 22 bills which Ducey vetoed at the end of May in an effort to prod lawmakers to get to work on the budget package.
Although passage of the budget bills took longer than anyone expected in the Republican-controlled Legislature, Ducey’s comments Wednesday stayed focused on the final product, including more options for parents in need of childcare.
Arizona has the most sweeping child care package in the country, including $73M+ to increase the number of quality child care settings and $47M+ for early literacy programs. We’re directing our resources to help Arizona families access safe, reliable child care. #ForArizonanspic.twitter.com/NMECSaQ77i
When the State House voted Friday to pass HB2898, the K-12 Education budget bill, it marked the end of a grueling process that resulted in passage of a $12.8 billion budget package for Fiscal Year 2022.
A key provision of HB2898 is the establishment of new academic standards for K-12 students in the area of civics. There was also funding for a number of special programs for students and a variety of new rules for school board and school districts.
But much of the debate about the bill centered on whether more money should have been allocated.
Rep. Aaron Lieberman (D-LD28) acknowledged HB2898 includes “a lot of money,” but he argued it was not enough. Lieberman noted 2,000 classrooms across the state do not have assigned, permanent teachers, something he said could be remedied by spending one-fourth of the state’s $2 billion surplus.
“It’s clear now more than ever we need every dollar,” Lieberman said in voting against the bill.
However, Rep. Bret Roberts (R-LD11) questioned why more focus is not on the decisions of school boards who spend the billions of dollars provided each year through federal funding and from the legislature.
“Why are we not asking the school boards why they’re not giving the money that the legislature sends to the school boards to the teachers?” he asked on the floor. “Why are we not holding the school boards responsible for the money that we send them to give to the teachers? When are the teachers going to hold the school boards responsible?”
Rep. Walt Blackman (R-LD6) expressed similar frustration, noting that many of the chamber’s 24 Democrats who were present Friday complained the funding in HB2898 was too low. So they simply voted against the bill.
Blackman acknowledged K-12 funding in the bill “may not be enough” but said those representatives who vote green -yes- are demonstrating they “support education by action.” Which is why he was disturbed to see so many red -no- votes.
Democrats may give myriad reasons for what is wrong in HB2898 or what could be done differently, he said, “but if we are really dedicated to teaching our children K-12, and that is a non-partisan issue, then why do we have red votes?”
“This can’t be an issue where we are upset and we take our marbles and we go home because we don’t have enough marbles to play,” Blackman said, adding that all of the votes should be green because “nothing is perfect.”
The House K-12 Education bill will now be transmitted to the Senate, which last week passed its own education bill. There is now one significant difference between the bills which will need to be reconciled.
That difference involves a major expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) which is currently available to about 250,000 students. The Senate’s budget bill added two eligibility criteria which would make ESAs an option to 700,000 students, including children from Title 1 schools where at least 40 percent of the families are considered low-income.
However, three Republicans in the House voted against an amendment which would have included the ESA expansion in HB2898. The amendment died without those votes and the three Republicans also voted against a later attempt to insert the failed amendment into the main bill just prior to final voting.
Sen. Paul Boyer (R-LD20) is a teacher and a major supporter of ESA legislation. He took to Twitter after the House vote to express his disappointment with the ESA decision.
“Meanwhile, minority students are 6 to 12 months behind their white counterparts. This defeat of ESAs for Title I students makes sure those same students never leave the school that’s failing them,” Boyer tweeted.
For the last three weeks the Arizona Legislature has spent more time not working on the state budget slated to start July 1 than they have spent working on it. But optimism is rising -particularly within the Republican caucus- that the impasse may be over.
Gov. Doug Ducey warned lawmakers at the end of May that he did not want to see any legislation hit his desk unless it was the 11 bills contained with the budget packet. He even vetoed 22 bills, all of which had Republican supports, to show he was serious.
On Monday, a number of people involved in the budget process signaled that compromises were being worked out to ensure 31 House and 16 Senate “aye” votes will be put forth for all 11 bills, or at least a significant number to get things moving forward.
According to Sen. Vince Leach, the proposed budget compromise provides money for education, public safety, road infrastructure, debt reduction, and “significant tax relief.” The first four of those items have been the key areas of disagreement, while the latter involves both tax cuts and a transition to a flat rate income tax.
Ducey also released a letter of support for a revised budget package which would now provide cities and towns with an 18 percent share of the state’s Urban Revenue Sharing Fund rather than 15 percent. The increased percentage is intended to cover $225 million in revenue municipalities were estimated to lose if Ducey’s proposed flat rate income tax is approved by lawmakers.
The transition to a flat tax would take place over a few years, and would limit the top rate at 4.5 percent, although Arizonans making less than $250,000 would have a rate of 2.5 percent.
Another compromise expected to be introduced would cap the amount of tax cuts next year at $1.3 billion unless certain revenue thresholds are hit. In that case, the tax cuts could go as high was $1.8 billion.
The Arizona Education Association has come out against the tax cuts and the flat tax. However, the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona threw its support behind Ducey’s efforts to reach a compromise on the budget package. According to a statement released Monday by HBACA, the budget “enhances Arizona’s economic environment, provides more resources to keep Arizona growing, and promotes housing affordability.”
The mayors who signed the letter to Ducey are from Avondale, Buckeye, Camp Verde, Chandler, El Mirage, Gila Bend, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Lake Havasu City, Kingman, Marana, Mesa, Payson, Peoria, Prescott, Sahuarita, Surprise, Winkenburg, Youngstown, and Yuma.
In a very efficient use of 72 hours, the Arizona Legislature finished a special session called by Gov. Doug Ducey to approve a $100 million supplemental appropriation bill which will fund fire suppression and fire mitigation efforts across the state.
“This will help our brave firefighters, at-risk communities and so many Arizonans,” said Ducey, who is expected to sign the HB2001 on Friday. The bill passed with bipartisan support from 24 of 30 senators and 56 of 60 house members.
Much of the funds are earmarked for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) but millions will also be spent for inmate and non-inmate labor related to work crews from the Arizona Department of Corrections.
The legislation addresses targeted investments toward the labor and equipment needed for wildfire prevention and preparedness, as well as response and recovery operations. Some of the funding is also earmarked for economic assistance for those displaced by fires or post-fire floods.
Only minimal amendments were made to the proposed legislation which had been sent to lawmakers earlier this week with Ducey’s blessing. One amendment changed a job title while another set a $10 million cap for funds to be used as a last resort for private landowners who experience infrastructure damage related to a fire or post-fire flooding.
That reference to landowners triggered one of the biggest debates in the House after Rep. Andres Cano (D-LD3) sought to include $5 million dollars of “last resort” funds for small business owners, many of whom may suffer losses from wildfires but do not own the land on which their business operates.
Rep. Gail Griffin, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, Energy, and Water, opposed the amendment even though she understood Cano’s concern. The problem, explained Griffin (R-LD14), is that a lot of effort was put into drafting the special session legislation and any extra items lawmakers want to fund should be addressed once back in regular session.
Cano’s amendment died on a voice vote. But he attempted to add the amendment back on via a motion once the main bill made it to the House floor. Cano’s effort failed, but it triggered a roll call vote by each representative.
It was revealed during the roll call that Rep. Travis Grantham (R-LD12) had been given permission by House Speaker Rusty Bowers to vote via text message because Grantham was in an aircraft at the time. A rules challenge was sustained which forced Bowers to disallow Grantham’s no vote on Cano’s motion. It also meant Grantham was unable to cast a vote for the fire suppression bill.
Arizona State Forester David Tenney, who is also DFFM’s director, warned lawmakers during a meeting Wednesday that the destructive Telegraph and Mescal wildfires near Globe are just a glimpse of what is expected to be a severe wildfire season in Arizona. He said last year more than 900,000 acres burned statewide; as of Thursday 300,000 acres have burned in 2021 with months of other fires expected.
One-quarter of the $100 million appropriation will serve a dual role: it will fund several ongoing fire industry positions in addition to 720 ADC inmates who will perform fire fuel or vegetation mitigation at sites throughout the state. Tenney says he hopes the crews can clear 20,000 acres annually.
In addition to Grantham, several lawmakers did not participate in the final vote on the fire bill even though remote “Zoom” voting is allowed. They were Rep. Joseph Chaplik (R-LD23) along with Sens. Lela Alston (D-LD24), Sally Ann Gonzales (D-LD3), Tyler Pace (R-LD25), and Kelly Townsend (R-LD16).
Those who voted against the bill were Sens. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-LD23) and Juan Mendez (D-LD26), as well as Reps. Melody Hernandez (D-LD26) and Athena Salman (D-LD26).
Up next for the legislature is trying to pass an 11-bill budget package which had the blessing from Ducey after it was announced Arizona had a nearly $2 billion surplus. The current fiscal year ends June 30 so no new budget would mean a partial state government shutdown.
There has been a stalemate in both chambers related to the three key points of the package: how much to allocate for new spending versus paying down debt, how much of the surplus to refund to taxpayers, and whether or not to transition Arizona to a flat-rate income tax.
To pass any of the 11 bills requires 31 votes in the House and 16 in the Senate. That happens to coincide with the number of Republicans in both chambers, but some members of that caucus have refused at different times to vote for the bills unless changes are made. Everyone is expected back to work Monday in hopes of resolving enough differences to secure the required votes.
Then attention will need to turn to 22 bills which Ducey vetoed when he grew frustrated with the lack of progress on the budget. The House and Senate have reintroduced all 22 bills but have not taken final action to reapprove them. There is also a chance that all or some of the governor’s vetoes could be the subject of a veto override vote.