Just like someone who has stiffed her friends on an expensive dinner tab, former Gov. Janet Napolitano must be chuckling as Arizona recedes into her rear-view mirror. For the howls of protest about the state's budget mess are being directed not toward the politicians of years past who are responsible for it, but to the current legislators who are faced with the grim task of making cuts.
Surely everyone disagrees with something that has or hasn't been cut. But those who believe in fiscal prudence owe a debt to the new legislative leaders-Senate President Bob Burns and House Speaker Kirk Adams-for doing their best to reduce the deficit with some actual budget cuts rather than superficial gimmicks.
The crisis can have a silver lining if we apply the lesson that deficits in bad times follow profligate spending during good times just as certainly as night follows day. The Legislature should pursue systemic changes that will insure our fiscal future. Among them:
- A state constitutional amendment to prohibit annual spending increases beyond population growth plus inflation. - Amending or ending the Voter Protection Act, so that spending adopted by initiative is subject to budget cuts when necessary. - Expanded financial transparency requirements so that taxpayers can monitor how every level of government spends public funds. - Education funding linked to individual students rather than funneled through school district and university bureaucracies.
To paraphrase the old adage, an ounce of restraint is worth a pound of cure. We can avoid painful future remedies by inoculating ourselves now against the disease of overindulgence.
Clint Bolick is the director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.