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Gov. Brewer catches hell for sound $ ideas

Citizen Staff Writer

These are five words I never thought I’d write: I support Gov. Jan Brewer.

The Republican governor-by-default gave her quasi-State of the State address Wednesday afternoon.

She outlined a multipoint plan for addressing the state’s roughly $3 billion deficit in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Her suggestions were reasonable, even courageous, but are not likely to get much support from members of either party in the Legislature.

At the top of the Republican’s list are spending cuts of another $1 billion and, uh oh, a tax increase of a like amount. Federal stimulus funds would make up the third billion of the deficit.

“I will match my 27 years of anti-tax, conservative credentials with anyone in public office,” Brewer said in the written version of her speech. “But as a very last resort, after considering every other option, and after doing a truthful and honest assessment of our economic situation, we must be willing to consider the passage of a temporary tax increase – approved by you and signed by me – or approved by the voters at a special election, of roughly $1 billion per year.”

The response from Republican legislative leadership was predictable, panning the tax increase proposal as “an economic downer” and all but dead on arrival.

Senate President Bob Burns of Peoria, as reported by The Arizona Republic, said, “I’m not in favor of a tax increase and I’m not prepared to vote for one.”

“Read my lips: no new taxes,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray of Mesa told the Republic.

The Associated Press reported that GOP Sen. Ron Gould of Lake Havasu City walked out of the House chamber when Brewer proposed the tax increase.

“I was disgusted that the governor went to a tax increase this early in the legislative session,” Gould said, according to the AP. “We’re not that deep into the game. We can fix it with cuts and stimulus money. We don’t need a tax increase.”

I’m disgusted that a member of her own party would show such disrespect to a governor who, at the very least, is taking an honest approach to dealing with a difficult problem that isn’t of her making.

The Arizona Economic Council, in a media release, denounced Brewer’s plan on the grounds that it doesn’t have a plan “to create a single job during her term.” The Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity blasted the increase and said the $1 billion in planned budget cuts isn’t enough.

Legislative Democrats criticized Brewer’s tax proposal as short on details.

Well, that much is true. I wish she had put together a balanced plan for increasing tax revenues. Perhaps she thought that legislators, particularly the Republicans in charge, might find a tax increase more palatable if they crafted it themselves.

Brewer showed fairness and savvy by giving a political out to her GOP colleagues, many of whom have signed a pledge to oppose any tax increase. If they are unwilling to pass a tax increase, then send the matter to the voters, she said. Let Arizonans decide if they are willing to pay a little bit more in taxes to preserve critical state services.

Earlier this year, Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, dismissed residents opposing the university budget cuts as “whiners.” The “whining” has only increased as the Republican-dominated Legislature has sliced and diced funding for the K-12 system, state parks and services for children and families, all the while claiming there are no alternatives.

I’d argue this is a chance to let those so-called “whiners” – I’m sure Pearce would include me among them – put their money where their mouths are.

The other elements of Brewer’s plan include reforming and modernizing the state tax code, doubling the state’s rainy day fund and limiting the use of “fund sweeps.” Sweeps are raids on funds that have been designated for a specific purpose and, usually, built up with a specific fee or tax.

Brewer also wants to ask the voters to modify the Voter Protection Act, which blocks the Legislature from meddling with voter-approved initiatives. She said the law, passed by voters in 1998, was well-intended but paints state government into a financial corner.

Can’t back this one. I wouldn’t vote for any changes to the law. But, go ahead, ask the voters if they want to undo a measure that has done exactly what it was intended to do – keep lawmakers from undoing the will of the voters.

Brewer said she wouldn’t sign a budget that relied only on stimulus funds and state debt to close the deficit. Nor would she sign one with “unrealistic spending cuts.”

The governor sprinkled her speech with calls for “courage” and “wisdom” and asked that God bless the Legislature’s efforts.

Given the response that followed from members of our loony Legislature, I’m starting to think it may take an act of God – or an outright miracle – to solve this state budget crisis.

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767.


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