Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sen. Manny Alvarez Responds to Arizona Daily Star Questions

The Arizona Daily Star is running a series of Southern Arizona legislator responses to four budget questions. Here is Sen. Manny Alvarez's response published in today's edition.

District 25
Sen. Manuel V. Alvarez, D

Committees: Public Safety and Human Services (Ranking Democratic member); Veterans and Military Affairs (Ranking Democratic member); Government Institutions


Education

It is the state's duty to make sure the public education system works for our children. Cutting back on programs like all-day kindergarten only puts Arizona's children at a disadvantage when compared to other states and shifts costs to families who have already tightened their budgets. Educational surveys consistently place Arizona at or near the bottom of the charts for performance and funding. It is past time that we do something to change that. Cutting back on educational funding is not the way to make sure Arizona's children can compete for high paying jobs once they go into the work force.


Health care

In Arizona, 1.3 million people are served by AHCCCS, the state Medicaid program. These are working families living at the federal poverty limit, with many being children. The governor's proposal would eliminate coverage for 300,000 or more from AHCCCS, 47,000 children from KidsCare and 17,000 from mental-health coverage. This is not only a cut to people at the worst time in the state's economic history, but it is a cost shift to community health-care providers. For each dollar cut from AHCCCS, the state also loses two more dollars from federal matching funds, so we actually lose much more.

Additionally, cutting hundreds of thousands of people from health care will mean that people will defer medical care until they are very ill and then go to the emergency room as a last resort. This practice is unhealthy for the individual and community and a very expensive cost that is not recouped by community health-care providers that are already strained.

Budget cuts

Mathematically, there is zero way to cut ourselves out of this budget deficit. The majority of the state budget goes to education, corrections and health care. At this point, many smaller state departments are working with bare-bones budgets - the same agencies we depend on to help protect us from consumer fraud. The state has lost over 4,000 jobs over the past two years from layoffs and a hiring freeze, which is 10 percent of the work force. We have lost even more in the private sector as a result of lost contracts.

While I am happy that the governor intends to use $10 million of federal stimulus for job training, it is only a temporary fix.

Republican budgets have already made permanent cuts to the Department of Commerce - the agency that runs job training. That means that when the stimulus dollars run out, there will be a permanent gap in funding for these programs.

Revenue

The state needs to look at additional revenue, but I believe that the voters need to decide for themselves whether to increase that revenue. The proposals we have seen so far only tie Arizona to future tax cuts. Democrats are not against tax cuts and incentives for companies to bring high paying jobs, but we cannot pre-plan tax cuts when we are not even certain when Arizona will fully recover from the current downturn.

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