Arizona on the edge of a precipice


Even though it’s been a couple weeks since the midterm election, I’m can’t seem to stop wincing. Apparently I’m one of the few Arizonans to have this reaction to both the national and statewide races. My fellow citizens (who, let’s face it, were “tea party” before tea party was cool) displayed their outrage with our alleged out-of-control government by electing, and re-electing, the bunch who support such fiscally responsible classics as the anti-immigrant Senate Bill 1070, now being expensively litigated in federal appeals court. Who needs schools, firefighters, and social workers? Bring on the attorneys!

As the smoke cleared that fateful Tuesday night, there appeared to be a few small bright spots amid the ruins. Propositions 301 and 302 had been defeated by healthy margins. Proposition 301 would have authorized the state legislature to sweep the funds (approximately $125, 000,000) from a voter-approved land conservation fund. 302 authorized them to sweep over $300,000,000 from a tobacco tax-generated early childhood education fund. Legislators billed these sweeps as necessary steps to reduce the state budget deficit, said to be $825,000,000 in the hole this fiscal year and over 1 billion the next.

I don’t blame you if you think the whole business is freakishly paradoxical, protecting the environment and early childhood programs while sanctioning the very right-wing firebrands who proposed the sweeps. Here in the Grand Canyon state, strict consistency is not one of our strong points. Still, it appeared at first glance that voters touchingly care enough about our state lands and little kids to keep lawmakers’ hands off them even in the face of inevitable, drastic cuts to education, public safety, and social services.

At second glance, however, that assessment gets cloudier. Speculating about the future is risky, but it appears that some among the spurned sponsors of the two propositions (the legislature itself) view the defeat as an invitation to slaughter other vital state expenditures – already severely weakened by previous years’ cuts -- that might directly or indirectly benefit those open spaces and children. For example, Arizona Republic columnist and blogger E. J. Montini reported that newly appointed Senate President Russell Pearce (yes, he of 1070 authorship) wants not only to cut state funds for indigent health care, but even to refuse federal funds for that purpose. “Church, community, families got to [sic] provide,” Montini reported him saying. Never mind that those churches, communities, and families are tapped out, too; it’s the principle!

So there we stand, on the edge of a precipice. We may be able to preserve some of our mountains and deserts for awhile longer (at least the housing crisis has held back pressure from developers on that score) and fund a few early-childhood programs, but at what cost? If we can’t protect or educate our most vulnerable citizens, will they ever be able to enjoy a hike through a desert preserve? Stay tuned. The worst is yet to come.

Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University, where she is also the Associate Director of Writing Programs. Outside academia, she’s an avid rafter, kayaker, and horsewoman who also attempts to garden. When possible, she escapes the Phoenix metro area for an undisclosed location in Southeastern Utah.

Essays in the Just West blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

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