Legislative leaders have been stymied for more than a month in their effort to coax Gov. Jan Brewer to divulge how she intends to spend federal stimulus money, despite several informal requests and a letter signed by the House speaker and the Senate president.
In an April 17 letter that was obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times on May 4, House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President Bob Burns formally asked Brewer for information about how she intends to spend more than $1 billion in federal stimulus aid available to Arizona.
Adams and Burns noted that they had asked for the information four times. The first time, they were told the information would be available by April 9. Three requests since that date also failed to shake loose an answer from the Governor's Office, and on two occasions the response was that Brewer had not yet been briefed on the topic, according to the letter.
The delay has kept the Legislature from moving forward with a budget proposal to address a $3 billion deficit, Burns and Adams noted, because lawmakers don't know how the stimulus money will be applied to specific programs. The governor is the state's point person on stimulus funding, deciding how much to apply for and where to spend it.
"We understand that the application and allocation plan may be preliminary and subject to change. However, we have reached an impasse on our budget development process. We must have some communication from your office on this matter," they wrote.
More than $800 million of the stimulus money is aimed at education, while the rest can be used for any purpose. The money can be spent over the course of three fiscal years and the education money can be spent on both K-12 and higher education.
Additionally, the state is expected to receive about $3 billion in federal aid for public health care, but that money is specifically aimed at Medicaid programs. Some of that money has already been received, and the amount given to Arizona will be dictated by the state's unemployment rate.
On May 4, Adams said Brewer has not responded to the letter in the three weeks since it was sent and lawmakers have not been given the information they requested.
"I believe we're too far into session not to have any substance from the executive," he said. "I'm hopeful it will be forthcoming."
Meanwhile, Paul Senseman, a spokesman for the governor, said Brewer has not provided that information because she has not been asked to do so. He said the letter did not specifically seek those details.
In any case, he said Brewer is unlikely to provide that information right now and is not planning to file an application any time soon to receive the federal stimulus money, which would require her to outline how the money will be distributed. Senseman said the governor is waiting to release her plan until she sits down to negotiate the budget with lawmakers.
"The advantage in not filing at this point is that it leaves some flexibility for discussions and negotiations about how (the funds) can be applied," he said.
Some lawmakers, though, would like Brewer to offer up a plan that shows how she will use the money. Rep. Nancy McLain, said it has been "extremely frustrating" for legislators to design a budget without any input from the governor.
"We're making some cuts that (Brewer) may put back in. If we knew that, we could look elsewhere," the Bullhead City Republican said. "It's almost critical that we know where this stimulus money is going to be spent.
"It would be a lot more efficient if we could work together."
Senseman said Brewer's budget staff has worked closely with legislative budget analysts to describe how the funds can be used under federal rules and guidelines.
"All of their questions are being answered in terms of how the funds work and where they can be allocated," he said.
To read a transcript of the letter to Brewer, go to http://www.azcapitoltimes.com/story.cfm?ID=11109