Gov. Jan Brewer's action on the state budget was incomprehensibly irresponsible.
The point of reference for understanding why is the budget deal she agreed to just last week.
Brewer and legislative leaders agreed on what has commonly been called an $8.4 billion budget. That, however, is grossly misleading. Fairly accounted for, the compromise budget authorized $10 billion in spending on general fund programs.
The agreement included referring a sales tax increase to the voters. There was also agreement on how the proceeds of the sale tax would be used in 2010.
If approved, $217 million would be used to reduce the amount of borrowing that otherwise would take place against state buildings; $22 million to reimburse the cities for stealing their vehicle license tax money; $175 million to restore cuts in K-12 spending for soft capital (books, furniture, computers); $5 million for charter schools; and $15 million to restore lump-sum reductions to the Department of Economic Security.
The Legislature sent Brewer the $10 billion budget as it was agreed to among the parties. It, of course, couldn't muscle the votes for the sales tax referral.
It would be understandable if Brewer didn't feel bound by the agreement on the underlying budget since her sales tax referral didn't make it. There were lots of policy changes in the budget reconciliation bills that would have been appropriate targets for her veto pen.
What Brewer did instead is fiscally insane.
Brewer's vetoes added hundreds of millions, and perhaps billions, in spending to the underlying budget. At the same time, she vetoed the $835 million in authority to leverage against state buildings necessary to pay for even the lower figure agreed to in the compromise budget.
So, she hugely added spending while eliminating the means of paying for it. She kept the doors of state government open, but at an utterly unsustainable spending pace.
And then she vetoed the K-12 budget entirely. She's in essence holding the schools hostage for her sales tax increase.
Brewer's rhetoric in taking this action was grotesquely disingenuous. She said that the legislative budget "incorporates devastating cuts to education, public safety and our state's most vital health services for the frail."
It was, however, a budget she agreed to just a week earlier. And there was not a single dime in 2010 restorations for public safety and health care in the sales tax referral agreement.
There was $180 million in restorations for education. But that represents less than 2 percent of overall K-12 spending of $10 billion from all sources. That's real money, but it's not the difference between preservation and devastation.
Moreover, Brewer was willing to stick education with the lower figure if voters rejected her sales tax increase, a distinct possibility.
All of this talk about devastating and decimating budget cuts isn't grounded in reality.