Education, universities need protecting - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

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Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 4:00 pm

As a state, we've been faced with some incredibly difficult choices as we contemplate how to balance our budget during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. But for me, protecting education has always remained a priority.

The state budget package that passed out of the Legislature last week makes clear that even during this fiscal crisis, Arizona remains committed to protecting our schools, universities and ensuring the public safety of our citizens.

There's no doubt about it, this budget includes some tough decisions. The final package - the result of negotiations between the House, Senate and governor - has more than $1 billion in cuts. Overall, our budget took a 12 percent spending cut.

I am under no illusions. These are difficult cuts that will impact real people. These are painful decisions that can't be taken lightly. I, for one, would have preferred spending more on education; not less.

That's why I drew a line in the sand with the help of some of my colleagues - vocally fighting to protect education, universities and public safety as much as we possibly could without having to raise taxes on Arizona families and further crippling the economy.

By doing this we were successful in protecting nearly $70 million in school funds that the Senate-approved budget would have otherwise axed. Likewise, we protected $37 million for our university system.

While I certainly would like to have seen our schools and universities avoid any cuts, the math didn't add up. So, with the help of sales tax revenue from Proposition 100, which voters approved last May, we held the line on an overall reduction to K-12 education at 3.6 percent.

This is important because in order for us to turn our economy around we must have a qualified and educated workforce. That starts in our public schools and our universities. I'm committed to keeping them first-rate.

For that reason, the Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer also instituted other reforms in this budget. For example, we've directed the Arizona Board of Regents to put together a proposal on a student-based funding model for the universities. The goal is to create a more equitable funding structure that recognized performance-based outcomes.

What is particularly responsible about this budget, however, is that it structurally balances our budget for the first time in at least five years. And it does so without relying on any new gimmicks. We've instituted long-term spending reforms that will make government more responsible and accountable to all of us. My hope is that keeps us from getting into this mess again.

Moreover, by making these significant reductions now we're putting the state on a path towards greater stability. That means that next year and the year after we are likely to experience more manageable deficits, keeping schools, universities and public safety off the chopping block as much as possible.

By balancing the state checkbook and reducing the size of government today, we've moved one giant step closer to creating jobs and rebuilding our economy down the line. Until we reach that day, I'll keep fighting for the good schools and services that make this community and this state a great place for all of us to live.

• State Rep. Bob Robson (R-Chandler) represents District 20, which includes AhwatukeeFoothills. Reach him at (602) 926-5549.

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