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AZ Supreme Court to hear arguments from governor, Legislature

Gov. Jan Brewer chose the steps of the Arizona Supreme Court Building June 16 after filing a special action seeking to force the Legislature to send her the budget bills. (Photo by Bill Coates)

Gov. Jan Brewer chose the steps of the Arizona Supreme Court Building June 16 after filing a special action seeking to force the Legislature to send her the budget bills. (Photo by Bill Coates)

Gov. Jan Brewer has followed through on her threat to take legal action against the Legislature for its refusal to send her the budget bills it passed two weeks ago – and the state’s high court has signaled it will at least hear arguments from both the legislative and executive branches of government.

Citing the Arizona Constitution, which requires the Legislature to transmit bills to the governor but does not say specifically when that must be done, Brewer filed a request for a special action from the Arizona Supreme Court in the hope that the state’s highest court will force lawmakers to put its bills on her desk.

She said the Legislature is trying to “trick” her by waiting until the last minute and forcing her to either sign a budget she disapproves of or order a government shutdown.

“People sometimes like to trick you. Well, I am not going to wait until June 30 to have them … more or less trick the governor’s office by dropping a budget on my desk on the 30th and having government shut down,” Brewer said from the steps of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Brewer initially threatened to file suit against the Legislature on June 15 after Senate President Bob Burns walked out on budget negotiations the previous night. Burns said his walkout did not signal the termination of discussions, but Brewer interpreted it as such. House Speaker Kirk Adams, who continued negotiation with Brewer the night of June 14 after Burns had left, said he did not view the Senate president’s actions as an end to the discussions either.

The governor said she sent a letter to Burns and Adams, inviting them back to the negotiating table on June 16. Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said they did meet later in the day and that negotiations are ongoing.

In her filing with the Arizona Supreme Court on June 16, Brewer argued that the Legislature is violating several provisions of the Arizona Constitution, including Article 4, Section 2, Part 12, which states that “every measure when finally passed shall be presented to the governor for his approval or disapproval,” though it does not specify a time frame in which the bills must be transmitted.

Brewer argued that the Legislature’s actions constitute a violation of the separation of powers as described in Article 3 of the Constitution. By withholding the budget bills while legislative leadership negotiates with the governor, the filing states, the Legislature is interfering with the duties of the executive branch.

Lawmakers “clearly intended to enhance their control over the lawmaking process and to deprive the governor of the ability to exercise her constitutional role in that same process,” the filing read.
“The constitution says that they must present the budget to the governor. The governor participates in the process. The fact of the matter is judicially, and I believe the constitution says, in a reasonable time. I believe today, 14 days later, has been a reasonable time,” Brewer said at her press conference. “I cannot allow the Legislature to usurp the power of the executive branch of government.”

Brewer also argued that the Legislature’s actions violate the principles of open and accountable government by making it more difficult for Arizona residents to determine the “location and status” of the budget bills in the legislative process.

The Arizona Supreme Court has granted Brewer’s request for expedited consideration and has scheduled oral arguments in the case for 10 a.m. June 23.

The Legislature was given a deadline of 5 p.m. on June 19 to respond to Brewer’s filing, and the Governor’s Office has until June 22 to reply.

The court will decide on June 23 whether to accept jurisdiction in the case, as well as the merits of the special action Brewer requested.

Paul Bender, a professor of U.S. and Arizona constitutional law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said he believes the governor’s interpretation of the state Constitution is correct, but doubts the court will rule on the constitutionality of the Legislature’s actions. Bender believes this is a rare situation where the court will refuse to resolve a constitutional issue because the issue is too politicized.

“I think they’re likely to say that the dispute is a political question which they are not going to resolve,” Bender said. “I don’t think the court will feel that it should intrude and force the other two branches to do what they ought to do, because they don’t want to interfere with the way legislation is drafted or passed, enacted, etc. They want to leave that to those two branches, who are the ones who are supposed to make the legislation.”

Brewer said she has ordered state agencies to make preparations for a partial government shutdown in case a budget deal is not reached by July 1, the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year. “We will try to keep a skeletal government going,” she said.

The governor publicly released her budget proposal on June 1, and the House and Senate approved their own budget package on June 4. The governor’s budget included a temporary 1-cent sales tax hike which Brewer believes is necessary to avoid drastic cuts in K-12 education spending and social services. The tax hike proposal, which Brewer said will generate about $1 billion a year, has met fierce resistance from legislative Republicans, though Brewer said the two sides had reached a possible compromise on the issue.

The main sticking point between Brewer and legislative leadership is the level of spending cuts to education and programs for the elderly, disabled and other “vulnerable populations,” Brewer said. She said the Legislature wants $442 million in education cuts, only half of which will be offset by federal stimulus dollars, and $75 million in cuts to social services on top of $100 million in cuts made during midyear adjustments to the fiscal year 2009 budget. She also criticized legislative plans to sweep more than $200 million from local governments, which Brewer said will only force cities and counties to raise taxes.

While some spending reductions are necessary, Brewer said, the cuts proposed by the Legislature are dangerous and completely unacceptable.

“We have made adjustments. I have given in on several different issues. I have compromised,” she said. “(But) I will not allow K-12 education to be decimated, nor will I allow the elderly, the children and the most frail of our society to be put at risk.”

Brewer said the Legislature could amend the budget it already approved, or craft and approve an entirely new budget package.

“This is something that can be done very quickly,” Brewer said. “The budget that they have on their desk today was done in about three days … so it’s not impossible.”

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