Commentary by Bob Karp
Two proposals that may make it on to the Arizona November 2020 ballot attempt to solve different issues facing Arizona state government. The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act addresses sentencing reform in the criminal justice system. Representative Warren Petersen, R- Gilbert is sponsoring House Concurrent Resolution 2008 which would amend the Arizona Constitution to prohibit an accounting "trick" that allows for the deferral of state payments to school districts from one fiscal year to the next.
What do these two potential ballot propositions have in common? They both would not be needed if the Arizona state legislature would do its job of oversight as well as pass legislation that actually might improve state government. As I have indicated in 2018 when I ran for state representative, I am skeptical of most ballot initiatives and suspicious of amendments to the Arizona Constitution because neither of these can easily be undone in the future if there are compelling reasons for change. Yet, I support attempting to get the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act on the ballot while opposing House Concurrent Resolution 2008.
State Representative Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake has worked tirelessly for sentencing and criminal justice reform by sponsoring legislation in previous sessions of the legislature. His bills have not even had a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee. Now he is again proposing reform legislation that would scale back harsh sentencing by allowing some inmates reduced sentences if they participate in substance abuse treatment, educational programming or improvement programs. Criminal justice reform advocates have waited long enough and they will attempt to get the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act on the ballot.
I support Rep. Blackman's attempt at a legislative solution. I could and would work with him and other members of the Republican party that advocate sentencing reform. But I get the frustration that reform advocates have and understand that they feel they have waited long enough. Once I see the final version of the ballot initiative, I will make a decision on my support. But at the moment I believe the legislature's inaction on this issue must be met with grass-roots action.
Representative Petersen's attempt at fixing "bad accounting" practices of rollover payments to K-12 schools is to amend the Arizona constitution to solve the problem. As the Herald/Review stated in the 12/31/19 editorial "...This eliminates all flexibility lawmakers may need next time our state government finds itself near bankruptcy." There are other considerations for not supporting this sledgehammer approach to dealing with the budget, including the possibility again as the Herald/Review stated "We fear that instead of paying off the entire $930 million owed to schools from the rollover, lawmakers may choose not to fully fund the repayment." That is certainly the pattern that state Republicans have taken in the past.
How to we begin to solve this problem? By reforming the budget process with bipartisan participation from the beginning, and total transparency to the public. Not two minutes to midnight changes to the budget with a quick vote to pass it. If I can get on Senate Appropriations or Rules committees, I will press for budget reform.