Michael: Arizona's GOP legislators put politics before public welfareThe Joint Legislative Budget Committee chair, Rep. Russell Pearce (R-18) questioned the very premise of building a satellite medical school in Phoenix. He said, "I'm not even sure we need a second one. It's easier to use the money to enhance [the UofA] than to build a brand new school." But Mr. Pearce admitted he has not even yet read the Arizona Board of Regents' report (PDF) on the school. How can he know what the facts are, and what the best advice of the medical community is, without investigating the matter at least to the very minimal extent of reading the Regents' report?
The facts are that Arizona faces a severe near-term shortage of trained doctors and there is not the space to expand quickly enough in Tucson. The world class clinical training opportunities in Phoenix (at the Barrow and Mayo, for instance) make it an ideal location for a satellite school. The medical community's consensus on this issue is quite clear; Phoenix is the best location to expand on the great base that the UofA medical school gives Arizona. The UofA medical school has already operated in Marcopa Country for 30 years. There is currently a regional campus in Phoenix which trains as many as 80 third- and fourth-year students every year. Expanding this existing program in the Phoenix area is the natural and most efficient means of expanding Arizona's professional medical base.
I don't really know what political agenda the GOP leadership has in mind that prompts them to so obstinately run counter to expert opinion and the public interest on this issue. Governor Napolitano had to take them to the mat in budget negotiations just to get the slim 7 million in funding to start the effort. Now the GOP seems primed to reneg to reneg on even that amount. I can only speculate that they do not want an expanded medical school to gain a constitutency in the heart of their political base. They know that legislative spending on a satellite school in Phoenix will be harder to rein in over the coming years than would the budget of the UofA medical school, safely tucked away far from the center of political power. They want to starve higher education, and that will become a mor difficult task with a satellite medical school providing tangible benefits to the citizens of Phoenix.
Regardless of their motives, they are clearly ignoring the best advice of Arizona's medical and educational communities on hoe best to provide for the public's welfare and instead pursuing an ideologically inspired political agenda of their own. It is heartening that opposition to the satellite school concept may be lessening among GOP members, but the battlelines are hardening among the GOP's most ideologically inspired. Anyone interested in the future growth and health of Arizona's people should remind ideologues like Pearce whose interests they serve.