Drawing the Line

* Napolitano uses veto power to save services, create a stronger budget


We have a governor, not a potted palm, on the ninth floor of the state Capitol.

So no one should be surprised that Gov. Janet Napolitano used her authority to make line-item vetoes in the Legislature's budget.

And it's a better package.

The governor struck an unprecedented 35 items. In an immensely complicated $6.4 billion budget, that's not a large number. Especially not when the changes will strengthen Arizona by protecting important services.

The governor vetoed cuts in education and health spending. She restored money to protect school districts with declining enrollment, mostly in rural areas, from sudden drops in state support. She maintained services important to Arizona's long-term welfare, including emergency dental treatment, vaccine programs and detoxification services. She retained money that can be used to bolster Child Protective Services: The agency's shortcomings were shockingly evident in the recent case of the boy who was starved and locked in a closet.

Napolitano headed off raids on the Heritage Fund, earmarked for such projects as wildlife habitat and historic preservation. It was drained to help balance the 2003 budget. Emptying it would kill programs that voters authorized and funded.

At the same time, the governor kept the endowment that provides long-term support for the arts, including education.

With another stroke of the veto pen, Napolitano came up with a way to pay for all of those programs: eliminate the $75 million fiscal 2004 appropriation for the Ladewig settlement.

Under Ladewig, Arizona must reimburse taxpayers for erroneous assessments on out-of-state dividends. The governor argues that we should pay this bill as it comes due instead of forcing extra cuts in state services by stashing away the money now.

This is a reasonable approach. The economy is picking up, boosting state revenues. And if we do come up short when Ladewig outlays are due in 2005, there are financial tools we can use, such as tapping money from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

The weak economy and a shortfall in revenues led to budget cuts that we would not otherwise make. Through vetoes, the governor has a reasonable way to restore many of them. Her staff says those changes meet all legal concerns.

Arizona has avoided the drastic steps that other states are taking, from shortening the school year to releasing prisoners.

By signing this budget, Napolitano can maintain fiscal responsibility without gutting essential services.

See the article on Arizona Republic website

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