Governor reluctantly signs budget plan
PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer inked her approval Wednesday to a package of spending cuts and fund shifts to help balance the budget -- but said she's not happy with a lot of what lawmakers enacted.
In a letter to legislative leaders, the governor said she appreciates the work done toward trimming the deficit caused by anemic tax collections and mandated state services.
Even with the nearly $200 million in fixes, though, Brewer said the gap between revenues and expenses for the fiscal year that runs through June 30 remains in the $1.5 billion range.
But Brewer said she is not pleased that legislators slashed funding for the Department of Revenue, on top of prior cuts made to the agency's budget.
The result, the governor said, will be to hobble that agency's ability to collect more taxes.
She also criticized cuts to the Parks Department, saying that could result in closure of several, if not all, of the parks, with other budget reductions threatening the ability to continue putting on the Arizona State Fair.
And Brewer said it was wrong to take funds from the Department of Commerce, saying that "will negatively impact the creation of high-wage jobs.'
The Republican governor also found herself siding with Attorney General Terry Goddard, her potential Democratic foe in next year's gubernatorial election.
Brewer echoed the complaints he made to the Legislature during last week's three-day budget session that the moves could hamper his agency's ability to protect public safety.
And Brewer took a specific slap at legislative leaders themselves for crafting the budget cuts without bothering to consult her or the agencies that are affected.
"Our interactions must become more inclusive, collaborative and transparent,' the governor wrote to House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President Bob Burns, both Republicans like her.
"We must stop drafting bills in a vacuum, which often leads to unintended consequences,' Brewer said.
The governor said some of the problems she believes this legislation creates could have been resolved if the she and her agencies "were permitted greater participation in the drafting process.'
Senate President Bob Burns acknowledged that the package was a collaboration between House and Senate Republicans.
He said the governor was preparing her own plan.
But Burns said there was no evidence she could get the necessary votes for approval by the time lawmakers needed to come to the Capitol to start slashing expenses.
Burns also brushed aside the governor's concerns about specific programs that were trimmed this time.
He said that, given the $1.5 billion deficit that remains, if they weren't cut now they would have to be cut later.
"As long as we are going to put education and health care in the 'untouchable' category, the cuts of all these other agencies aren't going to get there' to the spending number needed to balance the budget.
State aid to education amounts to about $4.4 billion, with more than $1 billion in state funds for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program.
But current revenue estimates for this year are about $6.3 billion.
Some of the difference is being made up with various forms of borrowing and deferring the payment of bills.
Lawmakers also are raiding various funds which were raised for specific purposes other than running state government.
Those two areas are off limits, though, for two reasons.
First, the state received federal stimulus funds based on its promise not to cut education funding below 2006 levels and not to reduce eligibility for AHCCCS.
Those restrictions continue into the coming budget year but disappear afterwards.
What remains, though, is the fact that funding formulas for both program were enacted by voters.
The Arizona Constitution bars lawmakers from altering such programs without taking the question back to the ballot.
GOP leaders are crafting a plan that would allow them to take those funds, with the tentative plan now to put that question before voters in May.
That is the same time Brewer hopes to get her proposal for a temporary one-cent hike in the state's 5.6 percent sales tax before voters.