Marvin's Window: Taking the "initiative" on solving state's budget woes

I looked out my window yesterday and saw Pogo grinning and looking in my window.

The comic strip character is famous for saying, "I have met the enemy and he is us."

Pogo and I talked about the fiscal crisis in Arizona and the mess we have.

I told Pogo that the legislators and governor must get "real" and find solutions for the fiscal crisis in the state.

"If you want to know who is at fault, look in your mirror," Pogo said.

I thought about kicking Pogo out of the yard right then.

Everyone knows that the legislature and governor set the budget for the state and pass the tax laws that raise the revenue to balance the budget.

Pogo gave me a copy of the Arizona Republic turned to an editorial.

It reviewed the initiative we, voters in Arizona, passed in 2000 that authorized spending the $80 million tobacco company settlement for health care for low-income people.

I voted for it because it seemed like a good use of the money and was not going to cost Arizona taxpayers any money.

Someone did warn voters that the initiative did not have any cap on the amount of money that would be spent for low-income health care.

Not only did we authorize spending $80 million in tobacco money, we forced the legislature to spend whatever the program cost above that.

The program, just two years later, costs the state $250 million per year! That extra $180 million is nearly half the expected deficit in this year's state budget.

So, as Pogo said, we are the problem.

We also passed an initiative by our vote that prohibits the legislature from changing anything we passed by initiative.

Only if we vote again can we change that health care money pit we voted for.

In the same 2000 election we voted to add .6 of a percent sales tax statewide to be used only for education.

Part of that initiative prevents the legislature from reducing previous levels of state expenditures for education.

That is why the attorney general told the governor and legislature that 60 percent of the state budget--the portion budgeted for education—was, and will stay, off the table when cuts are made to balance expenditures with revenues.

There are some other portions of the budget that fall in the same "hands off" category because we passed initiatives and we, the voters, are boss.

In addition, judges, following lawsuits initiated by other voters, clamped another set of budget handcuffs on our elected officials.

One of those was the money spent on school renovation in Kingman this summer and for other school construction around Arizona.

Wel-meaning citizens claimed the children of the state did not get equal education because tax receipts varied widely across the state.

A judge agreed and the state was forced to take over school building funding from local districts and local taxpayers.

When I cheered that idea, I forgot something.

I pay state taxes and that school building money comes out of my other pocket.

That money is also mandatory spending by judicial order and is another "hands off " part of the state budget.

A similar situation is being faced by the state to meet another judge's order.

Voters sued and judges said that we must spend much more money on bilingual education programs.

It is quite easy to vote for more money for good causes when we face single issues as a public vote on an initiative.

However, each dollar mandated by our votes becomes sacred in times of belt-tightening.

The legislature can only work with the third of the budget legally open to them.

We took away their right to balance state needs across the board.

If I go to the grocery store and take along all the family members, I have to be disciplined.

If they suggest candy, cake and soda and I get to the cashier with more groceries than money, something has to go.

Hopefully, I can keep the bread, milk and vegetables and tell them to take the other things back.

If I spend all my money on movies, ballgames and fancy clothes and do not have enough left for rent, I may have to sleep on the street.

But, I can blame the governor and legislature.

Pogo is right.

We are the problem because we made decisions without looking at the total picture.

What should we do next?