Governor continues to defend need for sales tax hike
PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer is defending her decision to craft a spending plan contingent on lawmakers enacting an immediate sales tax hike even as Senate President Bob Burns said it's likely dead on arrival at the Legislature.
"Looking at the scenario that we're faced with, I think that it makes sense,' she told Capitol Media Services Tuesday.
"The fact of the matter is, we have to have a balanced budget,' the governor continued. "There's no other way to do it.'
But Burns said Tuesday Brewer is unlikely to get her way.
He said the governor's plan, unveiled Friday, seeks to have the Legislature itself hike the sales taxes by a penny, to 6.6 percent. A constitutional provision on tax hikes means the plan needs the backing of 20 of 30 senators and 40 of the 60 representatives.
But Burns noted that Brewer's request last year just to send the question to voters gathered barely more than 30 votes in the House. And it could not even get a majority of the Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans like Brewer.
No Democrats voted for Brewer's request to refer the issue to the ballot. And House Minority Leader David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said Tuesday Democrats are no more prepared now to provide the necessary votes for that two-thirds majority.
He said the Democrats agree with Brewer that the state needs more revenues -- a lot more than the $1 billion the governor hopes to raise next year through her tax plan. But Lujan said they want to make more transactions subject to the existing 5.6 percent levy rather than simply hiking what's paid on taxable items now.
"For example, it makes no sense ... that people don't have to pay sales tax on spa treatments and country club memberships when you have middle class families having to pay sales tax for school supplies and clothes,' Lujan said.
Brewer's budget, unveiled Friday, includes not only tax hikes but also spending cuts as well as borrowing. She said if lawmakers and others don't like it, it is their obligation to come up with an alternative to deal with both the remaining $1.4 billion deficit for the current fiscal year and the anticipated $3.2 billion gap between revenues and expenses for the coming budget year.
Legislative Republicans who control both chambers have yet to craft their own response. But one of Brewer's foes in the Republican primary did accept her challenge to come up with something different.
The plan Tuesday by John Munger is in some ways similar to what Brewer is proposing, including scaling back eligibility for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, borrowing against future Lottery proceeds and mortgaging more state buildings.
But Munger said higher taxes are unnecessary. Instead, he wants to sell off some large parcels of state land and borrow $500 million against the future sales taxes that would be generated from the yet-to-be approved Rosemont copper mine southeast of Tucson.
And Munger also is proposing a controversial -- and potentially illegal -- move of having the state seize $600 million federal gasoline tax proceeds that the state now collects, using them to offset money he said the federal government owes Arizona for the cost of dealing with illegal immigration.
In a separate development Tuesday, Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, said he wants to explore ways to have volunteers keep state parks open.
The Parks Board voted last week to shutter 13, leaving only nine open, after lawmakers raided their funds. That includes Oracle State Park in Melvin's district which already had been partly closed because of earlier financial problems.
Melvin said there already is an active group, the Friends of Oracle State Park, that has raised money and has volunteers. But he said the Parks Board needs to recognize that if there aren't basic funds for state workers, then the state needs to take the next step: allowing volunteers to do everything from staff the gate to collect fees, run the gift shop and even patrol the site.