PHOENIX - The budget is not balanced. The governor wants to eliminate health care for 250,000 people. Nearly one out of 10 Arizonans who want jobs can't find one. And there are plans to slash funding for higher education.
But that didn't keep the state Senate from taking the time Thursday to debate and approve a resolution supporting the Republican governor of Wisconsin in his fight with labor unions.
Senators also voted to create yet another special license plate. But unlike some others aimed at raising money for causes like spaying pets, service to veterans and organ donation, the proceeds from this license plate would benefit tea party groups around the state.
And lawmakers gave preliminary approval to declaring the Colt single-action Army revolver the official state firearm.
That last one proved too much for Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix.
"Out of all the problems facing the state of Arizona, the citizens of Arizona should rest comfortably in bed tonight knowing we now have a state firearm," he chided his colleagues.
He recited a list of issues facing the state, including record foreclosures, large numbers of Arizonans without health insurance and people looking for jobs.
"I'm sorry," Gallardo said. "I would bet if we did a poll in the state of Arizona, the people of Arizona would come out and say this is not one of their priorities."
It was the resolution Thursday supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, though, that provoked the biggest discussion.
The resolution, like most, has no legal authority. Instead it consists of a series of "whereas" clauses spelling out the reasons for backing Walker in his bid to cut the budget and for criticizing the Democratic lawmakers who fled the state, which brought legislative debate to a halt.
Arizona's Democratic legislators figured if the Senate was going to send a message, they had a few "whereas" additions of their own for SCR 1059.
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, suggested language saying an educated work force is important for attracting jobs but that Arizona has cut education funding by $1.2 billion since 2008. That gained no traction in the Arizona Senate, where Republicans have a 20-9 edge.
Gallardo proposed to mention the loss of 300,000 jobs since 2007 while lawmakers voted earlier this year to approve $538 million in business tax cuts "with complete uncertainty as to whether a single job will be created in return."
That met the same fate, as did a proposal by Sen. Jack Jackson, D-Window Rock, citing high levels of child poverty on Indian nations and in rural Arizona, and another by Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor saying the plan by Gov. Jan Brewer to cut 250,000 people from the state health plan is unconstitutional.
And the GOP-controlled Senate even refused a suggestion by Minority Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, saying the resolution should be amended to say only the Republican lawmakers in Arizona support Walker.
The new license plate provoked a different discussion. SB 1402 would create a special plate, designed with a picture of the "Don't Tread on Me" flag showing a coiled rattlesnake on a background of yellow.
But the debate had nothing to do with the design.
"We have never had a license plate that promotes a political agenda," said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix.
What's behind the plates is money: Of every $25 additional annual fee paid to the state, $17 goes to the benefiting organization for its own programs. In this case, a committee of five people, all of whom would have links to tea parties, would divide up the proceeds.
But Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, denied anything about it is political.
"I know the Constitution is something that not all folks have read down here," Pearce said. "And that's what this plate is about, about furthering the principles of freedom, about the movement across this country, about citizens who want certain principles followed with limited government and family values and kind of the sea-wind change that's coming across this country."
Sinema said if backers want to honor the Constitution, they should instead create a special license plate saying that.
"We can love the Constitution and be true patriots without supporting a license plate that specifically funds one political viewpoint," she said. And Sinema said she would feel the same way if the legislation would create a license plate to benefit the Arizona Democratic Party.
The measure needs a final roll-call vote before going to the House.
On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/ news/local/govt-and-politics to read more about the Legislature's activities.