Home / budget / Business group to push budget deal favored by Brewer; lawmakers irked

Business group to push budget deal favored by Brewer; lawmakers irked

Infighting among Republicans over the budget could get very public and very messy now that word has leaked that Gov. Jan Brewer’s longtime campaign strategist has designed a major campaign aimed at pressuring lawmakers to support a budget Brewer would sign.

“Essentially, the governor and her folks are attacking the Legislature,” said Sen. Ron Gould, a Lake Havasu City Republican who has been outspoken against Brewer’s call for a tax increase as a budget solution.

And while the authors of the strategy and the group pushing it say they’re not affiliated with the governor, Brewer’s spokesman Paul Senseman told the Associated Press she supports the campaign.

Senseman said such a campaign would be “a natural extension” of the governor’s efforts to win legislative approval for her budget approach. That approach includes a temporary tax increase to balance the budget, along with spending cuts and use of federal stimulus dollars.

Senseman noted that Brewer has traveled around the state to plug her budget approach.

However, it’s almost June “and there’s yet to be a GOP plan that is a comprehensive and long-term balanced budget so, yes, she is considering a pretty aggressive outreach effort that would be in support of a comprehensive solution of a balanced budget,” he said.

The strategy, which was outlined in a memo obtained May 28 by Arizona Capitol Times, calls for a multi-platform campaign to “encourage legislative support for a balanced budget approach.” Among the methods specified are phone calls and mailers to voters, newspaper and radio advertising, and using letters to the editor and op-eds to push their message.

The $225,000 campaign would target as many as 18 legislative districts, the majority of which are represented by Republicans.

Rep. Lucy Mason, a Prescott Republican, called the tactics “pretty insulting.”

“I’m pretty unhappy that there is any circumventing of legislators within their own districts,” she said.

Chuck Coughlin, president of political consulting firm HighGround, said the strategy is not related to the governor’s work on the budget.

“It never refers to the ‘governor’s budget.’ It says a ‘balanced budget,’” he said.

The plan was commissioned by Building a Better Arizona 2012, a group of businesses that banded together earlier this year to have a voice in the budgeting process. Its chairman, Associated General Contractors, Arizona chapter President David Martin, said the group is not connected to the Governor’s Office.

Earlier this year, the coalition paid for a statewide poll that showed nearly two-thirds of Arizonans supported a one-cent sales tax increase.

However, many Capitol watchers see the group as a tool of the Governor’s Office and Coughlin, who has been one of Brewer’s advisers in her ascension to the Ninth Floor. Information on Building a Better Arizona filed with the Secretary of State’s Office lists HighGround’s phone number as the coalition’s phone number. Its address is also a post-office box that HighGround previously used as the mailing address for ballot initiative campaigns it managed.

Building a Better Arizona 2012 also took its name from Brewer’s March 4 speech to lawmakers, in which she called on them to include a tax increase as part of a balanced budget.

Coughlin’s objections don’t pass muster with Gould, who said most people who spend time at the Capitol are aware of the relationship between HighGround and the Governor’s Office.

“Coughlin’s a puppet-master for the governor,” Gould said.

The political consultant, though, maintained his firm and his client are independent of the governor. The plan outlined in the memo is merely a draft, Coughlin said, and won’t move forward until a budget proposal is released that the coalition can support.

“No members (of Building a Better Arizona 2012) have seen any budget they can support. There is no document like that,” Coughlin said.

But the e-mail that included the memo indicates such a budget may be right around the corner.

“This strategy is based on the launching of a budget next week that the coalition would be able to support,” HighGround employee Paul Bentz wrote in the e-mail, which was sent to more than a dozen business groups and others, including top officials at the Arizona Republican Party.

Republican Party Executive Director Brett Mecum, who received a copy of the memo, said the party would not support a plan that attacks Republican lawmakers, though he noted the strategy in the memo is advocacy, and not negative. But he said the party should stay out of the campaign altogether.

“From my standpoint, it’s not something I would bring the state party into,” he said. “It’s not my purview to be pushing the budget one way or another.”

The plan calls for Brewer and business leaders to conduct a series of press conferences across the state on June 3 to “announce support for the budget” and meet with editorial boards. Recorded phone calls encouraging voters to contact their legislators would follow the next day.

The memo hints that a budget would be released June 5, the same day a Web site would be launched to support the proposal and provide budget details.

The second week of the campaign outlined in the memo focuses on “supporting education and Arizona’s ability to stay competitive in the global marketplace” through phone calls, e-mails and postcards to voters.

The poll paid for by Building a Better Arizona 2012 earlier this year showed that voters would support a sales tax increase if it were going to be used to fund education.

The tone of the campaign’s final week appears as if it will depend on how much support there is for the budget proposal the coalition supports. The radio commercials, phone calls and e-mails, the memo states, will either “continue supporting education message or launch a final push message…challenging (lawmakers) to support the budget.”

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