Take away health care from 350,000 Arizonans. Cut $832 million from schools. Get rid of the GED program which gives people a second chance to get their high school diplomas. Close state parks and highway rest stops.
That's what the Republican majority legislature voted for and the Republican governor signed. They wrote it. They refused to consider any Democratic suggestions. Now they own it, and they could very well pay for it when they come in front of voters this November.
There's no getting around the fact that we're in a recession and tax revenues are down. I know we have to balance an out-of-balance budget, and that means making difficult choices. But I also know Republicans have chosen to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable Arizonans: children, the sick, and families who are struggling to make ends meet in these tough economic times.
They had other choices, two in particular.
First, they could have restored earlier tax rates for our wealthiest citizens. Over the past few decades, Arizona's income tax rates have been reduced by 30 percent. It's simple common sense. If we were able to cut taxes back when the state's coffers were full, now we can return to the earlier tax rates for the richest among us when the state is hurting.
Second, they could have eliminated some of those tax breaks we've lavished on businesses whose lobbyists hold far too much sway at the Capitol, including out of state corporations who spend their profits elsewhere.
Instead, the Republicans chose to rob children of their educations and drive families into bankruptcy because they can't afford their medical bills.
"It is painful," Governor Brewer admitted about the budget she signed, indicating a heart may still beat inside the budget-slashing governor.
In a frightening contrast, our own Al Melvin showed – how can I put this gently – something less than compassion for those whom his votes have harmed. In last week's Explorer, Melvin said about his time in the legislature, "I am having the time of my life. I am enjoying this job so much."
The image of Melvin rubbing his hands together gleefully at the carnage caused by the Republican budget is hard for me to stomach. This is a man who has just gone through cancer treatments. Because he had the opportunity to purchase affordable medical insurance as an employee of the state, the cost of his care has not bankrupted him. Is he so devoid of empathy he is unable to feel compassion for families who are less fortunate, who will have to choose between doctor bills and basic necessities like food and housing because of Melvin's budget votes?
Let's take a look at those health care cuts Melvin and his fellow Republicans voted for.
AHCCCS, Arizona's Medicaid program, provided health care for people whose income is below the poverty level. Now it only covers those who are at one-third the poverty level -- $7,300 for a family of 4.
That means 310,000 people will lose their AHCCCS health care.
Then there's KidsCare, which provides health care for 42,000 children whose families are below 200 percent of the poverty level. The budget eliminates the program permanently. We're the only state in the nation to do this.
Cutting both these programs will drive the new uninsured to emergency hospitals, which will raise all our health care costs. And, according to an Arizona State University study, it will cost Arizona more than 42,000 jobs, which translates to a loss of $1.7 billion in disposable income. Most of the money funding these jobs comes from federal matching funds which we will have to turn back. Could anything be more foolish?
As I write this, federal health care legislation is still in limbo. If it passes, federal money may reduce some of Arizona's health care pain. We'll still be jeopardizing our children's futures with our dead last education funding, but at least their present may include doctors' visits when they're sick.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.