Arizona is in a difficult budget situation. The projected deficit is close to a billion dollars, and revenue and growth projections remain anemic.  In response to these financial difficulties, Governor Ducey has proposed a responsible, sound fiscal plan to balance our budget. There is still work to be done, but Ducey’s budget blueprint has given lawmakers a good place to start.

Then along comes a bill that is completely oblivious to all of this, proposing to spend billions of dollars the state doesn’t have.  It’s OK, the legislator argues, it’s not really spending – it’s an “investment” that will create jobs and generate revenue for the state.

That bill is House Bill 2033, sponsored by Rep. Bob Robson. HB 2033 proposes to spend over $2 billion on public university research facilities over the next 30 years–$68 million in FY 2017-18 and $72.8 million per year for through FY 2047-48. Of course successful private universities like Grand Canyon University, which actually pay state income and property taxes while still keeping tuition low, won’t see a dime of it. So not only do we spend billions, but we pick winners and losers in the process.

Some lawmakers will never realize that you can’t spend your way out of fiscal crisis. More deficit spending only creates more debt, and the rate of return on all these investments the state couldn’t afford in the first place turn out to be far less than promised.  It has happened over and over again, and is a big reason why Arizona is now on its second major budget crisis in less than five years.

Nevertheless, for those familiar with the failure of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, HB 2033 should feel like déjà vu.  After all, “this is a jobs bill,” Robson claimed.  No word on whether those jobs are “shovel-ready.”

If there is truly a need for capital improvements in higher education, they should have no trouble raising the funds from the private sector and alumni to pay for it.   But to propose spending $2 billion of taxpayers’ money, right in the middle of a budget crisis, is simply unwise. Lawmakers need to reject this proposed “investment” and focus on the real issue, getting our fiscal house in order.