Budgeting on a wing and a prayer

I’ve pondered and debated and chatted with peers all week about what to say regarding the legislative budget proposal released on Monday, February 20th.

Among many of the proposal’s details, it does not address any of the educational funding increases proposed by the Governor’s budget. It also does not fully fund one of the long-range strategic recommendations included in the executive budget to replace an antiquated computer system used to run much of Arizona state government.

The budget’s shortfalls (of vision, policy and investment, not literal dollars) are only one part of the story.

As expected (and again, I tout my limited crystal ball abilities here), the budget was released and heard in a manner designed to totally minimize, if not fully eliminate, public input.  Publically available on a state holiday, and heard the following day, it was near impossible for community voices to read, digest and prepare to weigh in.

Additionally, the legislative budget, like the executive budget, does not specifically address the impending fiscal cliff we’re approaching when the temporary sales tax expires. It is clear legislative leaders understand this and are willingly ignoring it.

Senate Appropriations Chair Don Shooter has acknowledged publicly this and other future fiscal concerns, such as the 2014 full implementation of federal health care reform.  How does he propose getting ahead of potential fiscal disaster?  According to Shooter, “We’re asking people if you’ve made it last year (at current funding), try to make it one more year and let’s see what the good Lord brings.”

Such a lack of strategic leadership leaves me saddened and concerned. We know these issues are fast approaching, and our plan is to hope and pray?

As for my hopes? My hope is that now that the discussions between the executive and the legislature have stalled, everyone realizes the gift of time to pause and subsequently digs in to craft a real fiscal solution that addresses the needs of a state gutted by the recession and slowly coming back.

A fiscal solution that recognizes there are wise and strategic public investments and that long-term strategy takes on hard choices and decisions and meets the challenge of budgeting for 2013 and beyond.

Without using wishes and prayers as a key budget strategy.

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