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Senate President Biggs on state budget priorities

“Over the next few days and weeks, state leaders will be talking about Arizona’s budget. We will be seeking input from state agencies and the public. We’ll be analyzing revenues and spending, trying to determine the best way to meet the needs of the state while preserving a structurally balanced budget. The good news is we have a Governor who is great to work with, and who shares our commitment to a structurally balanced budget. His focus intersects with our focus.

The headlines will no doubt be dominated by spending demands in K-12 and higher education and child safety. But before we automatically head down the spending path, I’d like to look at how much money is truly available to spend, and the importance of maintaining a structurally balanced budget.

Despite speculation that more than $500 million may be on the table to spend, these monies are not sustainable revenues. These one-time monies cannot be used for increased, permanent spending; otherwise, we will repeat the overspending of our recent past.

The non-partisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee reports that we are structurally balanced by $25 million. It is this $25 million, not the $500 million, that Arizona has available for permanent spending. A ‘cash balance’ is vastly different from a ‘structural balance’, and a failure to acknowledge the difference will result in future budget shortfalls.

Discussions I’ve had with Members of my Caucus are sometimes at odds with the stories you see in the newspaper or on TV. They’re concerned about $1.3 billion in ongoing operational debt; the infamous selling of our own state buildings in 2009. The state should address the debt obligations created by overspending in the past before looking to increase future spending.

The current global economic instability and the slow climb out of the Great Recession mean an uncertain future, and Members are concerned about protecting and expanding the rainy day fund. They’re hoping to get away from the frequent reliance on sweeping of certain funds to meet other needs. And these are not concerns I’m hearing only in the Senate offices and hallways. My constituents share these concerns. So when these budget talks move forward, let’s all keep in mind the big picture, and not have a kneejerk reaction to the spending crowd. By all of us working together, the people of Arizona will benefit now, and in the future.”

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