Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Very few signs of sanity at the capitol - The Arizona Republic

The primary duty of any state legislature is to produce a responsible budget for the coming year.

The Arizona Legislature, which completed its duty, sine die, on Thursday did not send an especially satisfying budget to the governor. Education funding was increased in minuscule amounts. And the social safety net, particularly in health care for children, is tattered and full of holes.

But they sent Gov. Jan Brewer a responsible $8.6 billion budget that stows away $700 million as a buffer against an anticipated revenue drop-off ahead.

We may not be delighted with that outcome. But legislative budget decisions this year were made largely on sound, if perhaps overly conservative principles. As the GOP opted not to seek out new revenue sources, the budget chaos of the last several years justified their penny-pinching.

We can only argue at the margins. In fact, we would observe that the Republican majority acted prudently in resisting Gov. Brewer's preference to pay down recession-spawned state debt rather than bolster a "rainy-day fund." Fiscally, they did the right thing.

As for most everything else? Oy.

Perhaps the best that could be said of legislative antics this session is that the Arizona Legislature did not make a lot of international news as extremists and xenophobes.

At least the Legislature did not indulge in new measures akin to the infamous Senate Bill 1070. Senate President Steve Pierce wanted a session in which cacophonous protests were kept to a minimum. And, except for a measure authorizing a border-hawking Arizona "strike force" that died in the House, he succeeded. We are grateful for such small victories.

Republican lawmakers could not let go of "birther" bills designed to outfox that alleged foreign-born rascal, the president of the United States, however. That bill, too, was held. Foiled again.

What imaginative snares deployed by Rep. Carl Seel and friends will keep the White House awake at night next time (pending election results), we wonder?

Reactionary payback against the Obama administration constituted a dominant theme.

A belief that the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, is a doppelganger for White House energy policies prompted a bill to exert legislative control of the ACC. That measure failed. But it didn't dissuade lawmakers and Brewer from warring with another independent political body, the Independent Redistricting Commission. Those efforts, thankfully, were fended off by the courts.

It seems Arizona GOP lawmakers just could not let Obama go.

A proposal to give the state sovereignty (as opposed to the feds) over state air, land, water and fauna will go to voters in the fall. A measure intended to let state businesses fight back against "excessive" federal regulations, however, perished.

Two measures stand out as evidence that some Arizona lawmakers actually seek out international opprobrium.

One was the willfully pernicious effort to force firearms onto public venues, including campuses. Gov. Brewer wins our Sane Adult in the Room Award this year for her veto of that aggressive idiocy.

The other was the attempt to indemnify businesses run by religious-minded owners from requirements that they pay for insurance mandating contraceptive coverage. Whatever good intentions Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, may have had with this bill, the end result was that she merely provided propaganda fodder for the alleged "GOP war on women."

Many of these bills simply gave outsiders the false impression of Arizona as a state bubbling over with extremism.

Not that they didn't give extremism a good shot. Ideology did triumph over public safety when the House did fail to restrain the sale of so-called "legal" novelty powders known as bath salts. The House assured that our kids will continue to be at risk from consuming laboratory experiments marketed like bubble gum.

Republicans did get mixed results in their efforts to exert greater control over state workers. A measure, pushed by the conservative Goldwater Institute, to deny government employees the right to bargain collectively failed. But another, backed strongly by Brewer, will revise public-employee job protections dramatically. The latter proved successful.

At least the session ended on a high note. In the waning hours, acolytes of recalled Senate President Russell Pearce tried sneaking through a plan that could reimburse him for $261,000 in campaign funds. The Republican backing for that abomination evaporated.

And for that, if not much else, we are thankful.

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