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Brewer needs leverage, lacks incentive to back down

Brewer needs leverage, lacks incentive to back down

It’s extremely unlikely that Gov. Jan Brewer will sign all of the budget bills that the Legislature sent to her Aug. 20. She has nothing to gain and everything to lose by allowing this budget to stand.

After pushing for a sales tax increase for months and vetoing a budget that didn’t include a ballot referral for the increase, Brewer has already run cross-wise with many Republicans who she would be counting on if she decides to seek a full term in 2010. Backing down now would only make her look wishy-washy.

In fact, if she signs the whole package, people would wonder why she put the state through so much trauma by vetoing a budget, which is very similar to the one on her desk now, back on July 1.

What do I mean by trauma? Well, there are plenty of examples. For instance, lawmakers have been tied up in knots for almost two months in a special session to address her concerns over the first set of bills, the state is teetering on the brink of insolvency, state cash tied up in investments has been yanked to cover operating expenses, and Treasurer Dean Martin has been crowing about the very likely possibility that the state will have to borrow money from the private sector (including interest upon repayment) to make up for the lack of a spending plan.

Not only that, but she may have irreparably damaged her image and her chances of being elected next year by continuing to fight with the very Republicans who heralded her ascension to the Ninth Floor.

If she was going to back off her sales tax increase, now would not be the ideal time. She would be seen as having a lack of resolve – voters aren’t real keen on state officials who get beat into submission by their rivals. And fiscal conservatives aren’t about to forgive her for months of pushing for a sales tax increase.

Ideology aside, she has to continue to demand a tax increase. If not the sales tax referral, then something else that would allow her to save face.

She can’t do that if she signs the budget bills as they stand now. Therefore, she is likely to sign the ones that aren’t too controversial – H2014 already has been signed, and others might follow – but veto everything that lawmakers hold dear until they give her what she wants. The repeal of the equalization property tax is one of those bills that might be held hostage while she presses for a tax increase, but it’s not the only one.

She needs leverage. Period.

Let’s say Brewer really doesn’t care about her own political future, and that she is telling the truth when she says she’s trying to do what’s best for the state. Even under that scenario, she would have no incentive to back down now – after all, if she believes the state needs a sales tax increase, then allowing a budget to pass without one would, following her own logic, present even more problems for the state.

If she believes that, then she will have to keep on keeping on.

Bottom line: This mess is probably going to continue for another week or so. At least.

Incidentally, Arizona is one of three states without a fiscal 2010 budget. Connecticut and Pennsylvania are the other two. Even California, which some people see as the poster child of bad fiscal management, was able to pass something.

I’ve already postponed my vacation plans until the end of September. At this rate, perhaps I should just cancel them altogether.

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