PHOENIX – Democrat Janet Napolitano hasn’t been Arizona’s governor for weeks now, but she’s still a verbal piñata for Republican lawmakers at the Capitol, thanks largely to the state’s budget mess.
The legislators and even Napolitano’s successor, Republican Jan Brewer, continue to take deliberate shots – some by name, others by indirect reference – at Napolitano, who resigned Jan. 20 to become U.S. homeland security secretary.
The jabs are usually in the context of the state’s budget woes, with Republicans blaming Napolitano for championing spending in a budget that the GOP lawmakers and Brewer recently slashed to close a big shortfall.
“The Napolitano deficit left the cupboard bare, and in three short weeks, we are on the verge of fixing the catastrophe of a budget that she slammed through here last June,” House Speaker Kirk Adams said Jan. 28 while briefing reporters on the Republican-drafted package, which included painful spending cuts that have since started triggering layoffs of state workers.
Since then, other Republican legislators regularly have made similar references, often citing big increases in state spending during the six years that Napolitano was governor.
“This last governor caused this problem,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Russell Pearce, a Mesa Republican who helped draft the package that closed the $1.6 billion gap in the $9.9 billion budget.
“The economy certainly has contributed, but it’s been because of overspending and new program after new program, additional spending on top of (not being able to) pay our bills,” Pearce said. “And so now this governor has got to take responsibility for something she didn’t cause, something this Legislature – the Republican caucus at least – didn’t cause. But now we’ve got to fix it.”
Democratic legislators say much of the GOP criticism is a blame game that largely ignores that states across the country are in the hole financially because of the recession.