TABOR law in a different form? Critics cry foul over proposed rule

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PHOENIX -- Government spending is at historically low levels in Arizona after the recession.  Plenty of people say keeping government small is a really good thing, but a new proposal at the state capitol would take some of the flexibility out of the budget process.  Critic say it looks a lot like bills than come before law makers every year and fail.
“They expect us to manage our funds in an appropriate and sustainable way,” said Representative Justin Olson (R, District 19) of Mesa.

Olson believes in small government and to achieve that end, he came up with House Rule 38.  It caps the amount the legislature spends to the "preceding fiscal year" with any increase or decrease based on population and inflation.

“If we are going to have to exceed that amount, let's debate that whether we should exceed that amount and have a separate vote to suspend rule before we are able to do that,” Olson said.

Take this example: There was a $9.9 billion budget for 2008.  It shrank about 20 percent to $8.3 billion for 2012.  Even if the economy started booming again, the rule is designed to keep the budget near the lower level.

According to Olson, the rule, if it passes, simply gives them a baseline; it doesn't handcuff the legislature.  Critics say this is a backdoor to "tax payer bill of rights" legislation that failed just last year.

“It's defeated every year because voters know it's a disaster,” Dana Wolfe Naimark said.  “And eventually legislator realizes it's a disaster.”

Naimark is president and CEO of the Children's Action Alliance.  She said population and inflation are simply not good measures of budget needs.

“The number of prison inmates often grows faster than statewide population,” she said.  “The number of children in foster care often grows far faster than population, the number of students in public schools.”

Arizona State University economist Dennis Hoffman has studied the proposed laws often referred to as TABOR.  He said in 2005 that this type of measurement does not work over the long term because the government budget is too small in relation to the larger economy.

House members will vote on this new rule as early as Monday.