State lawmakers don't want to lie in the bed they made
April 6, 2008
Montini , The Arizona Republic
I'm not sure
which of the cliches that our mothers told us would apply to the plan by some
Arizona politicians to gut initiatives that were passed by voters. It might be
all of them.
In the interest of economy, however, we could begin with elected officials
wanting to have their cake and eat it, too, and end by saying that they made
their bed and should sleep in it.
Particularly when we're talking about someone like state Rep. Russell Pearce.
The man loves the initiative-and-referendum process. It's part of the Arizona
Constitution and allows citizens to bypass the very officials that they elected
to represent them by taking statewide votes.
No fuss. No muss. No politicians.
Pearce went to the initiative when he and others couldn't get the proposals in
Proposition 300 (the one about illegal immigrants) through the Legislature in a
way that the governor would not veto.
And it passed. The process worked. Unfortunately (at least for Pearce and others
at the Capitol) the process also has worked to pass initiatives and referendums
that they don't like.
For instance, the ones that support health care for the poor and school
These are very expensive programs.
Pearce and other legislators say that because the money from those initiatives
can't be touched, they're going to have a tough time balancing the state budget
or keeping us out of severe, long-term debt.
"You've got a $1.2 billion debt for this year and you have to balance the budget
without - in my view - raising taxes," Pearce told me. "Every pot of money
should be on the table. That's our job at the Legislature, but you can't do it
when your hands are tied."
Pearce says that the initiative process has been "abused," although not by him.
He blames "out-of-state millionaires."
"I believe in the referendum and initiative process," he said. "But I believe
there are times when we need to alter things. This is a republic, not a
democracy. It's a representative form of government that is supposed to look out
Here's the problem: For generations, state politicians had the ability to
"tweak" elements of laws created by initiatives and referendums. After doing so
once too often, however, an initiative called the "Voter Protection Act" was
passed, preventing them from tampering.
"I think that law should be rescinded, changed, yes," Pearce said. "But that's
not what I'm proposing right now."
Instead, Pearce is sponsoring a resolution that would allow the Legislature to
ignore the mandates of initiatives during difficult economic times, like those
we're now experiencing.
"I'm just saying, take the handcuffs off," Pearce said. "As it is, we either
decimate some programs or we raise taxes. And I don't think that the public
wants that. And I don't want that. Give us the tools to try to fix the problem
with the least amount of damage."
The thing is - he's right.
Legislators should be able to do such things.
That is what we elect them to do.
But because they're only interested in changing laws that they didn't like in
the first place, it will be tough for Pearce to get voters to go along with his
If approved by the Legislature, you'd get to vote on it. Or as our mothers might
say, "What goes around comes around."
Those wise and loving women also had a cliche about people (including
politicians) who like to take shortcuts but wind up paying for it later.
Penny wise, pound foolish.
at 602-444-8978 or ed.
montini @arizona republic.com.
Section: VALLEY & State
Record Number: pho99782564