Our View: State budget delays invite havoc, shut out public

May 18, 2019

The longer the state Legislature’s session runs, the better the chance the state budget and a variety of other bills will pass at the last possible moment.

The session is already well past the designated close date because of apparent budget disagreements.

We say apparent because budget negotiations are done well away from the public eye with the final proposal not announced until it’s pretty much assured of passage. In the meantime, the Legislature has busied itself with matters such as making lemonade the state drink and decriminalizing nunchuck possession.

A few lawmakers have gone public with their budget gripes and threats to withhold votes over particular issues. These include lengthening the time for sex abuse victims to sue for damages and, importantly, the removal of that onerous $32 vehicle registration fee.

Republican opposition to Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed budget – which includes the vehicle fee and some $150 million in extra income tax revenue due to a technical anomaly – is sufficient to threaten the slim Legislative majority.

The more budget negotiating that goes on, the more the budget package will look like a Christmas tree decorated with the wishes of any lawmaker who’ll swap a budget vote.

Big unresolved issues with the budget include expanded education spending and paying for last year’s teacher raise promises, the governor’s bigger rainy day fund and the uncertainty of road spending, especially with the vehicle fee somewhat back on the table.

These issues have been unresolved since day one, way back in early January. Ducey spelled out his budget proposal before then.

The process is poor.

Lawmakers should have an early budget deadline, one that allows the negotiation of each item to be done in public. Non-budget bills shouldn’t be heard until the budget is resolved, or nearly so.

The big problem this year is that Republican lawmakers aren’t fully aligned with the Republican governor’s budget. If it’s a problem now, how much worse would it become should Republicans lose either house majority or the governor’s seat?

The budget is the most important thing the Legislature does each year. It should be done early, thoughtfully and in full public view. Not the opposite. Which is how it’s done now.

— Today’s News-Herald

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