Napolitano budget ideas won’t likely be heededby The Associated Press on Jan. 13, 2009, under Local, Special
PHOENIX — The last speech that Gov. Janet Napolitano gave to the Arizona Legislature urged lawmakers dealing with the state’s tough fiscal future to resist cutting funds for priorities such as schools and health care.
But the suggestions from the Democratic governor, who is President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to become homeland security chief, aren’t gaining traction as the Republican-led Legislature began its regular session Monday and tries to close a nearly $1.6 billion deficit in the state’s $9.9 billion budget.
House Speaker Kirk Adams, a Republican from Mesa, said he regarded Napolitano’s final State of the State speech as nothing more than a curiosity. “It was important that she have an opportunity to give a farewell address,” Adams said. “Is it relevant to the upcoming session? No.”
Napolitano, who will be replaced as governor by Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer, used her 25-minute speech to cast her legacy as a protector of education and advocate for public safety.
She gave prominent mentions to the addition of all-day kindergarten at Arizona schools and the construction of a medical school campus and research labs in Phoenix. She also said state authorities made progress during her watch in trying to confront some of Arizona’s border woes.
The governor, who is expected to be confirmed for her new job by month’s end, warned against making budget cuts that improve short-term budget prospects but end up hurting the state in the long run.
She said the Legislature needs to increase classroom funding and teacher pay and that government should look out for the people hardest hit by the receding economy. “It would be wrong to hurt our seniors, our youngest children and those who are ill or disabled in the name of balancing the budget,” Napolitano said.
Rep. David Lujan of Phoenix, the leader of Democrats in the House, said he doesn’t expect Republicans to heed her warnings and that the speech was aimed at shaming them to protect those priorities. “She is basically saying take my lead and don’t make any major changes to the way that I have led this state over the last few years,” Lujan said.
Senate President Bob Burns, a Republican from Peoria, said the Legislature will follow the governor’s individual suggestions if it agrees with them, but cautioned that the size of the budget hole puts all programs at risk. “If we don’t get our budget back in balance and we run out of money, cuts is going to be a secondary term,” Burns said, explaining that the crisis could end up shutting down agencies because there will be no money to run them.
During her tenure as governor, Napolitano said state authorities attacked the drug and immigrant smuggling rings working in Arizona by going after their money laundering operations, cracking down on fake ID rings that cater to illegal border-crossers and arresting scores of smugglers. One of the many duties of the chief of homeland security is running three of the federal government’s immigration agencies.
“We have to keep up this intense pressure on the border criminals who use violence and fraud to smuggle people and drugs into our country,” Napolitano said.
On another subject, the governor said the Legislature failed to give voters a chance last year to consider a measure on transportation funding.
Napolitano was a leading supporter of a proposed initiative that would have raised the state sales tax by a penny to pay for highway and other transportation improvements. But that measure and another measure on state land trust were kept off the ballot for lack of enough petition signatures.
Arizona should lower the number of signatures needed to put initiatives on the ballot for voters to decide and crack down on abuses in the gathering of petition signatures and also should raise the number of votes needed for the Legislature to put measures on the ballot, Napolitano said.
“Making this simple change would help preserve the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches,” Napolitano said of the latter.
Opening day of Legislature
Opening day of Legislature
Opening day ceremony of the 49th Arizona Legislature featured Gov. Janet Napolitano’s final State of the State address before she takes office as secretary of Homeland Security in the Barack Obama administration.
Producer: FRANCISCO MEDINA