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Brewer: Budget bills issue not a political question

Seeking to rebut claims that the Legislature’s refusal to send her its budget bills is strictly a political question, Gov. Jan Brewer argued in her reply to the Arizona Supreme Court that the judiciary has the jurisdiction and standing to decide the issue.

In her final filing before the state Supreme Court hears arguments in the case, Brewer said on June 22 the Legislature mistakenly characterized the question of when the Legislature must send its completed bills to the governor as strictly political in nature, and therefore not appropriate for the state’s highest court to decide. The court on June 23 will hear arguments and decide whether it will accept the case.

Though Brewer disagrees with the Legislature’s actions, according to the filing, she is not asking the court to referee a political dispute. Instead, she is asking the court to force lawmakers to abide by the presentment clause in the Arizona Constitution, she said, which states legislation “shall be presented to the governor for his approval or disapproval.”

“The Legislature desperately tries to characterize the issue in this case as a political dispute between it and the governor, and urges the court to decline jurisdiction so that its leaders may continue negotiating the terms of the budget bills with the governor,” according to the governor’s filing. “In asking the court to hold that this matter raises a political question, the Legislature disregards the language of the presentment clause, overstates its authority to establish its own procedures and ignores the language in … the Arizona Constitution.”

In their response to Brewer’s lawsuit, the Legislature accused the governor of encroaching on its constitutional duties by trying to force lawmakers to transmit to her the budget bills they passed June 4. Lawmakers argued that the state Constitution does not mandate a timetable for when the Legislature must send the governor its completed bills, which they described a purely political question.

As she did when she first threatened a lawsuit on June 15, Brewer said in her reply that the Legislature is trying to usurp her authority as governor. By withholding the bills, the Legislature is interfering with her constitutional duties of signing or vetoing legislation, she said.

“In addition to her constitutionally prescribed executive powers, the governor also has a constitutional role in the legislative process. … The Legislature ignores this role by arguing it has unfettered discretion to decide when to present the governor the finally passed budget bills,” according to the governor’s filing. “The Legislature … encroaches on the governor’s authority when it fails to present finally passed appropriation legislation to her in a reasonable amount of time.”

Brewer argues that a reasonableness standard is appropriate when determining when a bill should be sent to the governor. In 2008, the filing noted, all 315 bills approved by the Legislature were sent to the governor within two days, and half were sent the day they were passed. Previous situations cited in the Legislature’s response in which bills were held for up to 45 days are irrelevant, the governor’s office argues, and may well have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court had they been challenged by the governor.

The governor initially threatened legal action against the Legislature after Senate President Bob Burns walked out on budget negotiations with Brewer on June 14. Burns said his walkout did not signal a termination of budget discussions. Brewer and legislative leadership have clashed repeatedly over the level of spending cuts in the fiscal year 2010 budget, as well as a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase proposed by Brewer.

Several hours before she filed her reply, Brewer issued a press release listing more than 100 municipalities, counties, business organizations, educational institutions and other groups and individuals that have publicly endorsed her budget plan. Several of the organizations and individuals are part of Building a Better Arizona 2012, a collection of business interests that is backing Brewer’s budget and drew up plans for a possible publicity campaign aimed at raising public support for her budget proposal.

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