A week into the 2010 fiscal year in Arizona, the state's budget is $2.1 billion in the red, worrying Tucson officials and others about committing money and jobs. In the past six months since Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer stepped up to fill former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano’s post, the state has been embroiled in what the LA Times calls the “nastiest fiscal fight in Arizona history.”
It has been a surprisingly vicious conflict, given that the state legislature is predominately Republican. After years of going head-to-head with Napolitano, lawmakers were anticipating an easier relationship with Brewer, who took over after Napolitano was called to head Obama's Department of Homeland Security. Yet Brewer hasn’t toed the party line —instead, she’s supported tax increases and defended spending on health care and public safety. And she has refused to budge, resulting in months of battling over education allocations, spending cuts to rein in the rampant state deficit and Brewer’s big issue: increasing the state sales tax (to be voted on in a November election) which would raise around $1 billion to offset cuts to social programs.
Recent highlights include Brewer suing the Legislature for allegedly violating the state constitution, Senate President Bob Burns walking out on a meeting and later harshly criticizing the governor, and Brewer vetoing every budget proposal that cut money for state services.
Last Wednesday lawmakers ended the fourth-longest legislative session in modern times by approving a budget in the early hours of the 2010 fiscal year that included $600 million in cuts but not Brewer’s proposed sales-tax hike.
Brewer line-vetoed major parts of the budget, particularly education spending which she viewed as insufficient, and called the legislature back for a special session this week. On Monday state lawmakers finally approved the education funding, restoring $220 million in cuts.
The education legislation moved quickly through the legislature unanimously, in an unusual bipartisan collaboration—no wonder as most members were likely exhausted from the past 170-day session and desperate to pass any budget bills.
Gov. Brewer claimed responsibility for the bipartisanship, however, taking credit for forcing the two parties to work together.
Yet the budget remains $2 billion out of balance in the face of a state deficit of at least $3 billion. The LA Times reports that:
Arizona finds itself in a particularly challenging spot. A shortfall of more than $3 billion amounts to 30% of its annual budget, a higher proportion than even California, which faces a 26% shortfall.
Perhaps Brewer should resolve disputes with her fellow Republicans before congratulating herself on leading bipartisan efforts; cooperation on all fronts will obviously be needed to balance Arizona's budget.