Sun, Dec. 08

Democrats push for governor's veto

PHOENIX -- Democratic lawmakers are making a last-minute push to convince Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the budget on her desk.

It's not just that they don't like the plan with its $630 million in new spending cuts. They are telling Brewer if she gives them additional time, they can come up with a budget acceptable to her and, more to the point, one their members can support -- including her demand that voters be given a chance to temporarily hike the state sales tax.

Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia, D-Tucson, said, though, that can't happen by the end of the day Wednesday. That's the constitutional deadline Brewer has to decide whether to sign the budget package sent to her by GOP lawmakers last week.

But gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said Monday his boss is getting equal pressure from Republicans who want Brewer to sign the budget they already approved. That includes permanently and immediately repealing the state property tax.

Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said if the governor goes along, he and House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, will continue to work on ways to refer the temporary sales tax hike to the ballot.

Senseman isn't saying which way the governor is leaning.

"She's got her own separate process of how she's considering and making final determinations of what she wants to do with the package,' he said of the bills on Brewer's desk that need action before Thursday.

"In the meantime, other members are coming forward with some ideas and possible solutions that they'd like to present to her,' Senseman continued. "She's entertaining those as well.'

The pressure on Brewer comes as state Treasurer Dean Martin took the first steps Monday to asking banks to provide up to a $3 billion line of credit for the state.

Martin said that, with or without a balanced budget, Arizona is going to need money to pay the bills that come due at time when the treasury is tapped out. Even in the best case, he said, the state will need access to at least $1.5 billion.

But the treasurer said the banks told him, as he suspected last week, that they aren't likely to pony up the cash unless and until Brewer actually signs a balanced budget into law.

"They told us 'We really don't think you'll survive underwriting or risk management without a balanced budget because you have to be able to show how you're going to pay us back. And you can't do that without a balanced budget,' ' Martin said.

For Republicans, the sticking point on a budget deal is the sales tax referral. So far, only 14 of the 18 Senate Republicans in the 30-member chamber are willing to back her plan that would add a one-cent surcharge to the 5.6 percent levy for 2010 and 2011, reduced to a half-cent in 2012 before going away.

Brewer said voters should be given the chance to offset the effects of the sharp spending cuts in the GOP spending plan, especially on education, health and public safety.

Garcia said if Brewer signs the bills on her desk she can kiss her sales tax referral goodbye.

Of particular concern is the plan to permanently forego the state property tax, a levy suspended in 2006 when Arizona had a surplus but set to return automatically this year. It would generate $250 million a year.

"If she signs the revenue part of the budget, she's lost any clout to get her referral,' Garcia said. At that point, he said, "there won't be enough Republicans to support it' since they already will have gotten the tax cut they wanted.

Conversely, Garcia said, once the tax is no longer up for negotiation, Brewer loses leverage to try to pick up Democratic votes.

House Minority Leader David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said, though, it's going to take more than restoring the property tax to convince Democrats to support a sales tax hike.

One issue, he said, is how sales taxes take a proportionately bigger bite out of the earnings of those near the bottom of the income scale than those at the top. Lujan said that could be remedied with a tax credit, similar to one provided when voters approved a permanent six-tenths of a cent hike in the sales tax in 2000 to help fund education.

"But that's not the only thing it would take to get our votes,' Lujan continued. "We have significant concerns about the underlying budget.'

That goes to the issue of timing -- and that looming Wednesday deadline.

"I don't think we can be flexible enough to fix this budget in the next two days, depending on what she's looking for,' Lujan said. He said that's why Brewer needs to veto the Republican plan to get more time.

And Garcia conceded that, at this point, he can't even guarantee the votes of all 12 of his Democratic senators for any plan to ask voters to hike sales taxes, no matter what Brewer and the Republicans offer.

The other deadline Wednesday deals with that property tax repeal. Officials in the two largest counties say they need to send the tax bills to the printer this week if they are to get them in the mail in time to get them to property owners ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline to pay.

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