Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sen. Linda Lopez Responds to AZ Daily Star Budget Questions

This is published in today's Arizona Daily Star in response to a request to southern Arizona lawmakers to answer four questions about the budget. It is located online here and pasted below.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson

Committees: Education Accountability and Reform; Healthcare and Medical Liability Reform

Education

If we are truly concerned about Arizona's economic future, education at all levels cannot suffer further cuts. Education must be considered an investment. Without a quality educational system, economic development will continue to be stagnant and the state may lose some of the businesses that are currently here. Businesses look for more than just a favorable tax structure when relocating. Without access to an educated work force a low tax structure has little to no value.

Health care

I do not support cuts to health and human services or asking voters to change eligibility for Medicaid. I support a proposal to increase the provider tax paid by insurance companies. Funds generated could be used to pay for the expansion of Medicaid supported by Arizona's voters when they passed Proposition 204. With regards to serving non-Medicaid-eligible persons with serious mental illness and support for human services I advocate equalizing the tax on alcohol with those funds dedicated to behavioral-health services, prevention services and support for the child welfare system. Beer, wine, and spirituous liquor are taxed at different rates. An adjustment has not been made in well over 30 years. This equalization could generate about $500 million annually.

Budget cuts

This state needs comprehensive sentencing reform. We need to differentiate between offenders that we fear and those who've simply made us angry. Murderers, rapists, child molesters and others we're afraid of must be locked up to protect Arizonans. Drug offenders (not big-time dealers) and others who've violated the law but who do not scare us should be treated differently. Programs such as treatment and probation are much less expensive than incarceration and much more effective at getting these folks to be productive citizens. We should review the sentences of those currently incarcerated to determine if releasing them early to these types of programs would be a better use of scarce state resources. Other states have already implemented such changes.

The budgets of the Secretary of State, the State Treasurer, the House of Representatives and the state Senate need to reviewed for diversion of some of their funding to other areas of state government that are much more critical. For example, the Senate Republican leadership spent over $60,000 remodeling the Republican caucus room and the Republican Appropriations Committee chair's office. That amount of money, while not huge in the scheme of things, could have been used to fund two Child Protective Services workers or some other equally important use.

We cannot reduce spending to the levels of 2004 or 2006 as this fails to recognize the increased demand on state government, i.e., more kids in schools, more people who need state help because of the economy, etc.

Revenues

In addition to the two revenue sources I suggested earlier I support expanding the sales tax to include services. Arizona's crisis demands swift, decisive action by legislators who are willing to put their own political future on the line for the sake of the future of this state!

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