There can be no sacred cows in Arizona’s budget debate

by Byron Schlomach, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute

Editorialists throughout the state have waxed eloquent calling for restoration of funding to various parts of the state budget. University presidents complain of too little funding to universities and community colleges. School administrators complain that schools are short-changed. We’ve all seen the horror stories about reduced health benefits affecting organ transplant recipients and behavioral health services.

Calls for increased funding ignore one important point: the state doesn’t have the money. As I have pointed out before, the state budget will be in deficit through 2014 and beyond, even in years when the temporary sales tax passed last May is in effect. In the current fiscal year, almost half over, the state faces a deficit of at least $800 million. The minimum projected deficit in 2013 is $1.3 billion.

Spending on public education makes up 42 percent of the state’s general budget. Add health, welfare, and other social services and it’s 70 percent. Universities put it at 81 percent. Prisons at 91 percent. Every one of these categories should be immune to reductions according to someone. If the last nine percent of state government, which includes the judiciary, the legislature, various regulatory agencies, and the governor’s office, were eliminated, it would not fill the budget hole.

I believe organ transplants are more important than spending $665,000 on the Commission on the Arts and $194,000 on the Governor’s Office of Equal Opportunity. However, those little bits of money here and there only go so far. The other 91 percent of the budget cannot be off limits. When it comes to fixing Arizona’s budget shortfall, everything must be on the table.

Dr. Byron Schlomach is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Economic Prosperity.

Learn More:

Goldwater Institute: Victory on Nov. 2 requires lawmakers to outsmart budget trap

Joint Legislative Budget Committee: Highlights of the FY 2011 Budget

Joint Legislative Budget Committee: Revenue and Budget Update, November 19, 2010


  1. How about the CREATION of NEW sacred cows.

    That’s the plan and its supported by “conservatives” ranging from Kirk Adams, to Gov Brewer to Russell PEarce.

    The new sacred cow is the Arizona Development Authority which replaces the Dept of Commerce.

    They claim that “funding” is entirely private.


    “Funding” is entirely by taxpayer underwritten corporate bonds with can AND WILL fail, creating a new liability for the general fund.

    Not to mention the fact that there’s no elected oversight of the Authority’s expenditures, even though the taxpayers are at risk (taxation without representation).

    The only oversight of the unlimited spending is the Arizona Corporation Commission, lobbyist firms and a politically appointed Board of Directors.

    Get ready for an economic rape like you’ve never seen before Arizonans because HERE IT COMES!

  2. I read that the charge for a kidney transplant is $500, getting rid of the two agencies suggested allows for 1 3/4 kidney transplants when many more are needed. Could we do better on the math, please?

  3. Not sure a new roof for the costing $20 Million is more important (or a sacred cow) than organ and bone marrow transplants for people. Yet the governor’s budget is set for the new roof and I am of the opinion that it could be better spent on saving lives. What do you think?

  4. Ooops – forgot to mention the new roof is for the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. How important is a roof as compared to saving lives? How many lives will a roof save/improve/benefit?

  5. Didn’t NAU just announce $200 million for some NEW construction?

  6. Jon Altmann says

    Some nominal budget adjustments need to be made to take care of the AHCCCS transplant fund.

    University construction, as pointed out by one poster – that construction is generally paid for with bond debt over many years.

    Want to make real deductions – ask all State & City employees to pay just a bit more on the employee share of their pensions – including those participating in the elected officials fund. Also, change the funds for all near entrants to restrict any withdrawals to wait until age 55.

    Do you realize that members of the National Guard and Federal military reserve forces cannot get any of their retirement monies until age 60 – if Congress can’t see it’s way clear to take care of our nation’s warriors until age 60 (versus active duty who can get their retirement the day they retire, regardless of age), then why not civilian employees?

    Tough times require tough choices.

    Also, if one is still putting years into a State pension system – that is, double dipping – then they should not get their pension until THEY STOP WORKING. This should be true of all elected officials who are part of the Arizona elected officials retirement system.

  7. Unless you have jobs, all the education in the world is not going to bring money into state coffers. There is waste in government-sponsored education, but it’s not with the teachers and their classrooms–it’s in the administration. Way too many folks in non-teaching positions at our schools.
    A few suggestions to help the budget problem: No pensions until a person stops working; get rid of AHCCCS and use the same system 44 other states use; new sentencing guidelines for bad guys (i.e. incarcerate only physically dangerous convicts; others can be productive members of society by working, taking care of their families, paying compensation for their criminal activites and bigger fines, ankle bracelets, house arrest, public service, etc.); zero-based budgeting–for a start. And, yes, anti-illegal immigration enforcement does work.

  8. If pension plans had been private nationwide, then we wouldn’t be having this problem, would we be?
    Towns, cities, counties, states, federal bureaucracies took in pension contributions and spent the money. Now we have a collapsing system in which, for example, fire departments pay out more on pensions and benefits for non-workers than they pay to actual on the job firefighters – and can’t afford to hire newbies to fill slot vacated by retirees.
    Across the board in all sectors, government, local, state and federal was too interested in the cash and control than the sustainability of this artificially fixed pie system.

  9. Figuring out ways for government to suck money out of the private sector can be done by taxes, or by the way Altmann just described: changing the employment terms of state workers. Not fair, and even if they quit they’re still hosed.

    Pensions themselves are a form of socialism that will hurt all of us in the end.

    It would be awesome if all government money truly was wasted. Evenly and fairly: not wasted in a way that benefited one class or business sector or geographic region. The problem is not government waste, it’s government patronage: when limitless government spending bypasses the market and goes directly to pork, etc.

  10. Let’s be blunt!

    The biggest bi-partisan “sacred cow” is probably one of the most least efficient, cost ineffective scams, i.e. public education, whose only rival for fund sucking is the U.S. Postal Service!

    But no one seems to possess the cajones to take on the Ed bureaucracy (at all levels) and its ideological/political “hit mob” the A.E.A.

    Oh yeah! There’s a lot of grumbling behind the scenes, but as yet, no local pol from any corner of the spectrum will do so publicly!

    Hopefully, that will change!

  11. Carlist,

    Pubic ed is a constitutional requirement and to abolish it would require a vote of the people. That will never happen. It can be made better…lots better and without any money. But…it would take the intestinal fortitude to oppose the AEA and the discipline to stay focused on the end result and not get lost in the mire of detraction.

  12. Rosco P Coltrane says

    Well, we have a republican majority in the house and senate, and we have a republican governor. With all of this support from the party of limited government, we can’t go wrong.

    This is a golden opportunity for republicans to really cut government out of all of our lives. I’m sure they will take advantage of that opportunity since that’s what we keep electing them for.

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