KNAU and Arizona News
9:05 am
Fri November 20, 2009

Special session budget fix fails

Phoenix, AZ – The budget special session this week was supposed to be a quick
first step toward fixing the state's $2 billion deficit. But that
didn't happen.

It takes 16 votes to get anything out of the Senate. None of the
Democrats were voting for the plan to cut $300 million in
education and welfare funds. And one of the 18 Republicans was on
a previously planned cruise.

The problem is that GOP senators Ron
Gould and Thayer Verschoor oppose a part of the package to let
state agencies hike their own fees on those they regulate to free
up tax dollars. So Gould voted against the spending cuts -- and
Verschoor didn't bother to show up at all.

That resulted in a
swipe at the pair by Gov. Jan Brewer who issued a statement
calling them -- quote -- Republican extremists. Gould, by that
time already enroute home to Lake Havasu City, said he guesses he
is.

"Apparently, in the eyes of a Republican governor that doesn't
hold the party platform."

He conceded that, by his way of thinking, that also puts most of
his GOP colleagues out of step with the party, as they also voted
to let the agencies hike their fees.

"To me this is a de facto tax increase on business. I think
that's a bad thing to do in the midst of a recession."

It remains unclear this morning whether there will be the
necessary GOP votes when lawmakers reconvene next week to pass
the budget without Gould or Verschoor. Gould said he believes
Senate leadership will have to give in to his demands and kill
the legislation with the fee-hike authorization. But
gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said his boss does not see
that as a realistic option.

"That would actually have the result of the government spending a
whole lot more money. I think that would have the opposite effect
of balancing the budget deficit. It would exacerbate it."

The meltdown in the Senate came as Brewer was in Austin,
attending a meeting of the Republican Governor's Association. But
Senseman insisted that the problems that developed were not due
to her absence.

"This is the Legislature's responsibility in order to provide a
balanced budget. If they cannot get it done, we'll do everything
we can to help them."

While Senseman held the governor blameless for the failure to
enact the budget cuts, he said Brewer does not limit her
criticism to the two hold-outs from her own party.

"It's as equally disappointing that an entire caucus continues to
take a partisan position against balancing the state budget."

But the Democrats have their own take on the issue. Sen. Ken
Cheuvront said he recognizes that there are going to have to be
strategic spending cuts.

"But I and, I cannot speak for all my fellow Democrats, but also
feel that there also needs to be a two-pronged approach. And that
as we make those cuts we also have to look at raising revenue.
And we need to make sure that those cuts we have in the future
are going to make sure that it's not going to have long-term
negative implications for the state."

But the package crafted by Brewer and GOP legislative leaders
dealt only with spending cuts and fee hikes. There was nothing
before lawmakers to increase revenues, not even Brewer's proposal
to ask voters for a temporary hike in the state sales tax. Senate
President Bob Burns countered that Democrats were wrong to say
that lawmakers were cutting the budget.

"The cutting's already been done by the activity of the economy.
The cash is just not there. The revenue is not there."

He said that means the only thing for lawmakers to do is to tell
state agencies to spend less. But Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor said
that isn't exactly true. She said the state's sales tax structure
is set up to exempt many services from the levy -- services that
could bring in needed cash.

"When I think about other luxury items that are out here, whether
it be a manicure, pedicure, doggy day care, haircuts, these are
the types of services that are not taxed. And they're being
protected."

Lawmakers will try to line up the votes for the plan again on
Monday.