Op Ed: Napolitano should clean up her mess before she goes

Opinion Editorial by Tom Jenney

Napolitano should clean up her mess before she goes

When I was little and I my room was a mess, my mom would make me clean up before I could go outside and play with the other kids. 

Right now, there is a lot of talk about Governor Janet Napolitano leaving Arizona to go play with the big kids in Washington, DC. She is on the short list to be Barack Obama’s vice presidential running mate, and many think she could become the next US Attorney General.

But before she leaves, Gov. Napolitano should clean up the mess that she—more than anyone else—has made of Arizona’s state budget. 

Since taking office in 2003, Napolitano has prodded the Arizona Legislature to grow state budgets at an average rate of 12 percent annually, much faster than the rate of growth of the state’s private economy, which grows at 7 or 8 percent annually during economic boom times. State government spending now takes up 7.01 percent of the state’s economy—the biggest portion since 1980.

With spending growing so fast, and reaching unsustainable levels, it was inevitable that tax revenues would fall short and that a gigantic deficit would emerge. That gap is now up to $2.2 billion—proportionally, the biggest state deficit in the country. 

Napolitano was the prime mover in creating the deficit, so she should have taken the lead in trying to fix it. But she failed to call the Legislature into special session last fall to correct this year’s budget, and she failed to use her executive power to reduce agency spending.

For next year’s deficit, Napolitano has proposed fund shifts and accounting gimmicks, but very little in the way of net spending reductions. The combined impact of her measures would be to temporarily reduce the deficit by roughly $1.2 billion—a billion dollars short of actually balancing the budget.

Napolitano has suggested increasing state property taxes by $250 million, but tax increases are politically unpopular (and bad for a struggling economy). So it appears that her real plan—if she has one—is to balance the budget by increasing state debt. At this point, it is likely that the liberal majority in the Arizona Legislature will support her in resorting to debt.

Of course, taking on debt will not be the end of the story. If Napolitano moves to DC in 2009, she will be gone when the state begins paying $200 million annually in interest on that debt. Between the interest payments and voter-approved automatic spending increases, the budget deficit for the following year (FY 2010) will probably still be over a billion dollars.

To avoid ongoing deficits in 2010, 2011, and 2012, Arizona would have to see spectacular economic growth, with annual growth in tax revenues of about 15 percent.  If that kind of growth does not materialize—and it probably won’t—Napolitano’s replacement will be forced to choose between deep spending cuts and huge tax increases.

Instead of leaving a gigantic fiscal mess for someone else to clean up, Napolitano should work with legislative leaders to make significant spending reductions now.

The Legislature’s appropriations chairmen, Sen. Bob Burns and Rep. Russell Pearce, have found $1.5 billion in spending reductions that would allow the state to balance next year’s budget without taking on debt or raising taxes. Napolitano should be able to support those reductions, which would shave the overall state budget down to the size it was two years ago, in FY 2007.

And if she is still in Arizona this fall, Napolitano should be ready to call the Legislature into special session to make further spending reductions, if revenues fail to meet current expectations.

For better or worse, Napolitano does not have a political “mom” who will make her stay in Arizona until she cleans up her mess. But she is a big girl now, so maybe she can learn how to clean up after herself.

Tom Jenney is the Arizona director of Americans for Prosperity (www.aztaxpayers.org).


  1. Buddy Breon says


    Reducing spending by less than one percent when your budget deficit is more than 20 percent makes zero sense.

    The Democratic legislators who go along with that thinking just ignore what they know should be done. It’s what they would do for their own budgets.

  2. SonoranSam says

    Yeah, WE ought to clean up the mess in state goverment.

    And we can start by fumigating the House.

  3. Just Win Baby says

    Well written piece Tom!

  4. Just Win Baby says

    And Sam is right… Getting rid of Hershberger, McClure, Burns and other RINOs will finally give us a Republican majority that can deliver 31 real Republican votes. Then we can actually pass meaningful cuts! Thank heaven for term limits!

  5. SonoranSam says

    Just Win: As we used to say in the 60s, Different Strokes for Different Folks….

  6. Just Win Baby says

    Why am I not surprised that you are a child of the 60’s?!


  7. Kralmajales says

    This is unbelievable! What a total joke of a column. First, the power of the purse is with the legislature. Year after year they seek to lower taxes, and lower spending, and the largest proportion of the budget is theirs when it makes its way to the Governor. In fact, its predominantly a GOP budget! If you don’t like the spending part, then blame Mr. Bee, who apparently brokered the compromise with the Governor!

    Next, the increase in spending that the author talks about comes from past budget crises where spending was reduced. It was to restore necessary spending that had been cut in past GOP baked calamities like this one.

    The GOP recipe is one of theory and their theory has been guiding this state. This theory is responsible for the budget calamity we are in.

    No one here can dispute this theory with a straight face…as it is what it is…and it causes deficits.

    You gamble that that lower taxes will increase growth and thus increase revenues. And then you spend that to barely keep enough government around to for infrastructure to attract growth. The problem is that that when growth doesn’t happen, or worse a bad economy, then revenues cannot support spending…even the small amount that we do here in Arizona..in comparison to richer states.

    In the end, this gamble leads you to cut spending when your gamble doesn’t pay off and to leave it to future, flusher, years to restore spending that had been cut…PLUS inflation.

    The truth is that you all have run this state in the ground. You can’t hang it on the Governor. Your policies, your secret, exclusive budget talks, and rammming it down the Govs throat year after year before a govt. shut down is what brings you what you want.

    You have made your bed…people want change…and they are going to kick you out.

  8. Kralmajales says

    Im still amazed at this half hearted attempt at laying the blame for our poor economy on the Governor! Its stunning to say the least.

    I guess I did not mention that the cuts that Pearce proposes will essentially cripple many agencies that are already among the lowest funded in the nation. For instance, higher education. The universities have been cutting for year, have fired people, and are not about to start cutting programs. The universities are an economic engine to our state…after all the cheap land and tax give aways, companies want a highly skilled, well trained workforce. I guess the way we will get that is by importing immigrant labor from Europe, China, and the Middle East.

    Get your old heads out of the sand…people just don’t want government so small that it is ineffective. They also don’t want to privatize EVERYTHING.

  9. Just Win Baby says

    Poor Kral, I suspect his unwillingness to acknowledge the role the Governor plays in the process, by writing and submitting a budget, by withholding Democrat votes, and especially by vetoing GOP budgets, does not extend to the federal level where the same legislative balance exists. It is simply untrue to deny the Governor’s primary role in the process. If you don’t believe me, ask Kral whether or not Bush gets any responsibility for our budget deficit, or does he lay the blame entirely at the feet of the Democrats who control Congress?

    My guess is that he blames Republicans for holding executive power at the federal level while excusing the Democrat who holds the identical power here. He then blames Republicans here for holding legislative power while excusing Democrats who hold the identical power at the federal level.

    Kral also ignores the fact the Nappy has far more power here than Bush does at the federal level because she has the line-item veto, so any pork and any garbage spending that makes it past her is absolutely her responsibility.

    Gee Kral, we’re “stunned” at your analysis. You’re a leftie apologist for a liberal Governor who has spent us into the problem. Nothing more.

  10. How surreal that Kral wants us to believe that Napolitano is a weak, powerless Governor, who is actually the victim in this whole storyline. He actually proposes that the legislature has ever been successful in “ramming” budgets down her throat? Do the names Governor No and Governor Veto not sound familiar?

    This Governor has never had anything rammed down her throat.

    She may want to duck responsibility and Kral may want to help her, but Kral is wrong when he makes her out as weak, powerless, and ineffective. She’s gotten exactly what she wanted except that she wanted to spend even more than she got to spend. If she had it her way, we’d be in an even worse position.

    Great article Tom Jenney, pathetic rebuttal Kral.

  11. Kralmajales, your comment is a post not a comment. Please start writing more in full stories!

    Ms. Napolitano, Please run for VP and resign before ya go. Then, when Obama loses you’ll be a nice historical bookmark and outta AZ!

  12. kralmajales says

    So you have told me little of what I said was wrong. Tell me I am wrong that your theory of economics is anything but a gamble and that the GOP legislature did not craft the budgets that have led to this massive lack of revenue.

    Yes, the gov. can veto a budget…sure…what happened, and is happening now, is that the GOP controlled House and Senate try to craft budgets behind closed doors (with Dem input), they delay delay delay…until a shut down looms (which no one wants) and then they spring it on the Gov leaving her little room but to veto it, pass it…OR…

    Get people like Tim Bee to sell out your caucus to pass a middle ground.

    The middle ground has served us very poorly.

    The borrowing for capital projects argument I made was also not addressed.

    You can’t possibly believe that the gov. is responsible for this mess???? I can assure you that few others have this fantasy in their head…no matter how Tom wants to try to spin it.

  13. kralmajales says

    Oh…and Baby…on the federal level, the power of the purse is indeed still with Congress the deficit and debt stretches back to Reagan and remember that by far the most of the deficit and debt came under unified GOP control at the fed level…under Bush and the unified GOP house and Senate….1 1/2 years of Dem control, certainly does not lay that on the doorstep of the Dems.

    Oh…and can you really say with a straight face that cutting taxes and spending billions a month on a war…is sound fiscal policy.

    YOu can only argue that theory that the crisis pretty much puts down as wrong headed and stupid.

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