Washington Babylon — June 16, 2010, 6:55 am

What’s The Matter With Arizona? A conversation with Senator Rebecca Rios

I have a piece in the July issue of the magazine (not yet available online) about the political looniness in the state of Arizona, which goes well beyond the issue of immigration. Arizona, I note, is essentially bankrupt; if it were a business it would be declared insolvent and put in receivership. In May, voters approved a ballot measure that temporarily raised the state sales tax to bring in $1 billion. That averted an immediate budget collapse but provided no long-term solution to the crisis.

There are multiple causes for the mess in Arizona, including the fact that the legislature is composed almost entirely of dimwits, racists, and cranks. State lawmakers turned racial profiling into official policy, through a law that requires police to stop suspected illegal immigrants and demand to see their papers. The Senate passed a bill to ban the funding of any ethnic-studies programs at state universities, as well as one to prohibit “intentionally or knowingly creating a human-animal hybrid.” 

And as the state’s economy teetered on the brink of collapse earlier this year, lawmakers took time out from their primary pastime — slashing social spending — to reduce what Eagle Scouts paid for fishing license fees, declared a Boy Scout holiday, and granted a constitutional right to vote.

There are a dwindling few voices of reason in the legislature, among them Democratic Senator Rebecca Rios, the assistant minority leader. I interviewed her when I was in Arizona last February and recently updated that conversation by phone. Below are excerpts from our conversations about the situation in Arizona.

On voter passage of the sales tax increase:

Everyone was surprised by the outcome. I thought it would be a razor-thin margin but it won all over the state, even in Republican areas. Its passage eliminated the need to go in and cut $1 billion in additional services, so we won’t have to make further cuts in social programs. But we’re not out of the woods yet; we are starting the next Fiscal Year at least $150 million in the hole and the budget is based on a number of assumptions that may not work out, revenue could come in lower than expected.

The legislature is still dominated by Republicans and I still expect they will go back in and try to cut social programs and pass new tax cuts, even though we still don’t have sufficient revenues. We forego $10 billion every year in tax breaks and exemptions. There have to be some loopholes we can agree to close. That would have been preferable to passing a regressive sales tax, but that approach is unlikely to see the light of day with the current legislature.

On immigration:

Immigration is a hot button issue and politicians here play that card whenever they can. Voters are concerned about drug smuggling and coyotes and drop houses, and these are relevant issues, but the focus here is punishing the guy standing out in front of the Home Depot. There are bigger fish to fry.

On tax cuts:

You can track the tax cuts over the past 15 years and see the impact. Whether times are good or bad, whether the state coffers are full or empty, the answer is always to cut taxes. There is no room for logic or facts.

You have to expand the base of people you’re taxing and suspend some of the tax credits. Every year we forego huge amounts of revenue due to sales tax exemptions for food and health care; that’s OK but there are a number of special carve-outs that need to be closed: for country club memberships, manicures and pedicures, for food and drinks purchased by airlines. That last one was passed after lobbying by the airlines.

Historically we’ve had lobbyists come in and get tax exemptions and those tend to benefit big companies and the wealthy. I represent a district with copper mines, but copper has always been taxed at a very low rate.

On spending cuts:

We rank near the bottom in the provision of social services but that’s what’s taking the biggest hit in the budget cuts. Vouchers are not helping poor kids; they are going to kids who are already in private school. Representative Steve Yarbrough is the biggest advocate and he owns a tuition tax credit business.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today