False Choice: Preserving Corporate Tax Cuts, Arizona Gov. Brewer Plans To Slash Higher Education

It is becoming a well-worn tradition among Republican governors to use state budget woes to pursue lopsided budget priorities. Dedicated to preserving $538 million in corporate tax cuts, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) willingly sacrificed transplant patients, low-income families, the “mentally ill,” children’s health programs, and arts programs in the name of a balanced budget. Now — despite once abhorring the idea — Brewer is taking her knife to another one of her low priorities: higher education.

Having already cut state funding for public universities from $1.2 billion in FY2008 to $682 million this year, Brewer is prepping to gouge out higher education in order to pay for an expected 40 percent growth in Medicaid and other health-care expenses by 2015. To accommodate the cost, Brewer is interpreting Arizona’s constitution’s requirement that the state provide higher education “as nearly as free as possible” to mean that higher education is “a large bucket” of money to redistribute:

A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer said it is “simply a fact that higher education is a large bucket when it comes to state funding.”

“It’s something where the state has discretion in terms of cuts,” said Matthew Benson, the spokesman.

Higher education officials say Arizona schools are already at a “breaking point.” According to the Arizona Board of Regents spokeswoman Katie Paquet, schools will significantly hurt enrollment if they keep raising tuition. “We’re going to start to have an access issue if state budgets continue to decline and we’re forced to continue to raise tuition,” said Paquet.

Even Republican state Rep. Tom Forese is uneasy with the prospect of higher education cuts. “We’re really putting ourselves in a position where we’re not going to be able to meet these unfunded federal mandates without taking part in several very bad positions,” he said. Regents Chairman Fred DuVal, meanwhile, blasted Brewer for putting tax cuts ahead of education spending. “Pitting Medicaid against education is not a full disclosure of the choices,” he stated. “If education is their fourth priority — they should just say so.”