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Building a Better Arizona shelves campaign, for now

Just days after the release of a memo outlining a campaign to generate public support for Gov. Jan Brewer's budget proposal – and, potentially, to target legislators who oppose it – the group behind the strategy scrapped the plan, at least for the time being.

 At a June 8 meeting, members of Building a Better Arizona 2012 voted to officially throw their support behind Gov. Jan Brewer's budget and her proposal to raise the state sales tax by 1 cent. Yet several members abstained because the organizations they represented hadn't yet taken a formal position on the budget.

The coalition of business interests, which formed to support a "balanced budget approach" to the state's fiscal problems, also decided to shelve any plans for a publicity campaign to drum up support for Brewer's budget, members said.

John Rivers, president of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said members of Building a Better Arizona agreed that a campaign such as the one outlined in an internal memo that went public in May was not the most effective way to advocate for Brewer's budget.

"There was conversation about the potential for a, quote-unquote, media campaign, but by the time I left the room, that had been put on the shelf and we decided not to go in that direction. So it's going to be individual organizations using their grassroots advocacy networks to drum up as much support as possible for the governor's budget," said Rivers, who is a member of the coalition.

Rivers said the coalition also decided against reconfiguring the strategy behind the campaign.

"I think that most people felt that good old-fashioned grassroots advocacy was the right way to approach this, and so that's what we're going to do," he said.

Rivers said the release of the internal memo and the backlash that followed had nothing to do with the decision to back away from the plan.

"It was certainly discussed, and even though the HighGround representatives were very clear there was no attempt to target or discredit legislators who were not supportive of the governor's budget, everyone was well aware of the fact that it could be perceived that way," Rivers said.

East Valley Partnership President Roc Arnett, a member of Building a Better Arizona, said the coalition decided not to go forward with any campaigns, though the group is keeping its options open.

"What we're doing is encouraging the Legislature to pass the governor's plan with a two-thirds majority so she gets that budget fixed. If it doesn't happen, we may have to do a campaign," Arnett said.

In late May, a memo from HighGround to the members of Building a Better Arizona members was obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times. It outlined a $225,000 campaign to use robo-calls, e-mail blasts, newspaper advertisements and radio spots to push Brewer's budget plan, with the campaign focused on 18 legislative districts.

The memo listed June 3 as the start of the campaign, though it did not happen. Coalition chairman David Martin, president of the Associated General Contractors, Arizona Chapter, said the memo was "just a draft" and said no campaign was in the works.

Coalition spokesman Cary Pfeffer said the group is primarily focused on speaking with legislators and trying to convince them to support the governor's budget plan or to find a "middle ground."

"We kind of looked at a lot of different things during the meeting and just decided that it was best to take this approach, and then we'll reconvene again next week and see what we can do from there," Pfeffer said.

Several coalition members did not vote on the plan because the organizations they represent have not officially approved or rejected Brewer's budget. For example, Southern Arizona Leadership Council President Ron Shoopman said his board has not yet endorsed any budget plan.

"There were at least three people around the table whose boards have not yet taken a position," Shoopman said.

In a March speech titled "Building a Better Arizona," Brewer unveiled her five-point budget plan to the Legislature, asking lawmakers to either approve a temporary tax increase themselves, which would require a two-thirds vote, or put it on the ballot so voters can decide, which would only require a simple majority.

While much of the debate surrounding Brewer's proposal has focused on whether the governor can get the 16 and 31 votes she needs to put the tax hike on a ballot, coalition members say their primary goal is to get it approved by the Legislature.

Republican lawmakers have lined up in opposition to Brewer's tax plan, and legislative Democrats have attacked her budget as well, though their budget also includes a tax increase.

Westmarc president and CEO Jack Lunsford, who is a member of the coalition, said he believes legislative approval is still possible.

"Yogi Berra said it ain't over ‘til it's over. This is my 30th session. I've been doing this for a long time, and the crisis sometimes begets a solution. People hold their nose and they go ahead," he said.

According to Americans for Tax Reform, nine state senators and 20 members of the House have signed a no-tax pledge. Brewer signed the pledge as secretary of state, though the anti-tax organization said it asks all elected officials to re-sign the document upon assuming a new office.

Building a Better Arizona 2012 is composed of a handful of business interests and stakeholders in the budget process, though not all members attended the June 8 meeting. Among those who attended were Arnett, Lunsford, Martin, Rivers, Shoopman, Pfeffer, Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen and Executive Director Brett Mecum.

Initially, Pullen told the Arizona Capitol Times on June 9 that he was not at the meeting. Party spokesman Matt Roberts later said "he must have been confused." Pullen did attend, Roberts said, but left early and was not supportive of any efforts to target legislators with a publicity campaign.

Pullen was an early supporter of Brewer's tax increase proposal, but has been sharply critical of any plans to attack Republican lawmakers and said he would not support such a campaign.

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