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Leaders: Rejection of fund-transfer propositions means deep cuts

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Leaders: Rejection of fund-transfer propositions means deep cuts

Voters rejected two ballot propositions Tuesday that would have transferred almost $450 million from two voter-approved funds to address the state budget deficit.

Unofficial returns showed both propositions trailing by a wide margin.

Legislative leaders called the defeat of Proposition 301 and Proposition 302 a huge blow that will require cuts to state programs.

Proposition 302 would have transferred $325 million from First Things First, which provides early childhood health and development services, along with $123.5 million from Proposition 301, a voter-approved land-conservation fund.

State Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that the state faces an even bigger shortfall.

"It's a monumental amount of money," Kavanagh said.

He said the state's borrowing capacity is extremely limited at this time and that most of this deficit is going to be addressed with program cuts.

Robert "Bob" Burns, the outgoing Senate president, said the next Legislature now faces hard choices about what to do about the state's budget deficit.

"There are very few choices left," Burns said. "There are going to be stiff cuts in programs."

He said it's likely the state will target programs that are not ballot-protected such as services for autism and for the developmentally disabled.

"I've concerned about the fiscal stability of the state of Arizona," Burns said. "We are skating on thin ice."

The Arizona budget passed based on the assumption that voters would approve both Propositions 301 and 302. State law requires voter approval because voters created both programs.

Opponents of Proposition 302 said voters created First Things First in 2006 to help young children that would have suffered if those funds were swept to shore up the state budget.

"First Things First is so important for children and childhood development," said Nadine Basha, the chairwoman for No on 302, a group opposed to the proposition. "Arizona voters recognize the importance of early childhood development and that we are about prevention and making sure that every child comes to school healthy and ready to be successful in school."

Lori Stinson, education director for Phoenix Day, the oldest continuously operated child development center in Arizona, said the results showed that Arizona voters support young children and their families.

"The program provides high quality early childhood education and makes it more accessible to families across the board, in particular for families who might be struggling financially," Stinson said.

Three groups opposing Proposition 302 had raised $944,298 through Oct. 13, according to a filing with the Secretary of State's Office.

The majority of the funding came from Save First Things First-No on 302 with $781,397. Another $160,000 came from a second opposition group.

Nine Native American tribes donated a total of $327,499, with the largest donation totaling $125,000 from the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community.

A group in support of Proposition 302 had raised just $15,600 during the same reporting period.

The program was approved in 2006 out of concern about a gap in services addressing the needs of children 5 and under.

First Things First draws its funding from an 80-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes. Its 31 regional councils receive a dollar amount based on the number of children in their respective regions and the number of those children living in poverty. Councils then conduct needs analyses to customize strategies to help their areas' families.

To date, the program has approved more than $208 million in grants for early education and health services throughout the state, including scholarships for aspiring educators.

Voters also rejected Proposition 301, which would have swept $123.5 million from a voter-approved land-conservation fund to balance the budget.

Opponents said that closing tax loopholes or scaling back spending in other departments were preferred alternatives to balancing the budget.

"I think it's pretty clear that Arizona voters, even in tough times, think it's important to conserve land," said Sandy Bahr, executive director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "They didn't believe the false choices the Legislature offered."

She said the proposition would have have hurt children and land conservation in the state.

"This is a big win for Arizona, our school kids, and our future," Bahr said. "It's too bad we even had to spend time on this, because the Legislature really needed to look at the budget in a comprehensive way."

The Land Conservation Fund is administered by the Arizona State Parks Board. The money is allocated to communities on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis to purchase state trust land.

"Voters have said they support long-term land conservation opposed to short-term fixes for our budget," said Carolyn Campbell, executive director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection.

Two groups opposing the measure had raised less than $6,000 between them.

There was no money raised by groups supporting the proposition.

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