State lawmakers don't want to lie in the bed they made
Arizona Republic
April 6, 2008


Author: E. J. 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 spending.

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 for everybody."

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"I think that law should be rescinded, changed, yes," Pearce said.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 resolution.

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.

Reach Montini at 602-444-8978 or ed. montini @arizona

Edition: Final Chaser
Section: VALLEY & State
Page: B1
Dateline: AZ
Record Number: pho99782564