Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Brewer: Tax-hike foes are in ‘denial’

PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers opposing a tax hike are in “denial” of the severity of the state’s fiscal crisis, according to Gov. Jan Brewer.

Meeting Wednesday with The Arizona Republic, Brewer conceded that the plan she unveiled two weeks ago “maybe wasn’t received quite as well as I had hoped for” among legislators but she remains convinced of its necessity in closing an approximately $3 billion budget shortfall that has the state “on the brink of bankruptcy.”

A key to the strategy is a temporary tax increase that would generate an additional $1 billion a year for state coffers.

Brewer has been pushing for a special spring election to ask Arizona voters to approve the tax hike, as well as the loosening of a law that protects funds for voter-approved state programs.

Brewer conceded that given legislators’ reluctance, the election may not come quickly. More likely is a vote in September — about three months after the beginning of fiscal 2010.

Lawmakers would approve a budget this spring without the tax-hike revenue, making it heavier on cuts to state programs and services. In a fall election, Brewer suggested, voters would be presented with state programs that they could restore by approving the tax hike.

“It would be up to the people to decide exactly what it is they want,” Brewer said.

It’s unclear how state officials would decide which programs to present to voters as the ones that would be restored under the tax increase.

In addition to the temporary tax hike, Brewer would like to loosen the Voter Protection Act by allowing legislators to take funds dedicated to voter-approved programs and spend the money elsewhere.

That would open the door to greater spending reductions in health services and K-12 education, as well as the possible redirection of funding set aside for special services such as early-childhood education.

Lawmakers are discussing options to close the 2010 shortfall and hope to have a draft budget by the end of the month.

Brewer already has warned them that she won’t sign a budget that relies on borrowing and other budget gimmicks.

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