Gov. Jan Brewer met with House Republican leadership and a revolving door of Democrats during a two-hour meeting this afternoon as she tried to find the votes needed to send a temporary sales-tax increase to the ballot in November.
“They figured they would just get the votes, one, two, three at a time,” said Rep. Jack Brown, a St. Johns Democrat, and one of five Democrats summoned to meet with Brewer in House Speaker Kirk Adams’ office.
Reps. Cloves Campbell Jr., D-16; Martha Garcia, D-13; Barbara McGuire, D-23; and Ben Miranda, D-16, also met with the governor and Republican leaders.
But Brewer said she hasn’t made any concessions in the budget deal in order to entice Democrats to bail out the agreement, which seems to have fallen apart amid opposition to the sales tax component.
“We didn’t offer the Democrats anything other than telling them what the bill includes and asked them for support,” Brewer, also a Republican, said to reporters as she left the House down the back stairs.
A Senate committee voted down Brewer’s tax-referral bill this morning, the second time part of the budget failed in that chamber in the past two days. Still, Brewer remained upbeat about avoiding a government shutdown, which would happen if a budget isn’t in place by midnight tonight.
“I’m very hopeful that when (Arizonans) wake up Wednesday morning that we will have a budget and that everything is good,” she said. “I’m hopeful that it will be good and that we will get it resolved.”
Assistant House Minority Leader Rep. Kyrsten Sinema said individual Democrats were called into House Speaker Kirk Adams’s office, only to find him waiting there with Brewer and Senate President Bob Burns. They asked the Democratic lawmakers for their votes on ballot referral for the tax increase, she said, but offered no concessions and did not try to negotiate.
“What happened was this – the speaker called several of our members and said, ‘Would you please come to my office?’ And then the member would show up to the speaker’s office and – surprise surprise – the governor, the speaker and the president were all sitting together in the room,” said Sinema, who said she was not one of the Democrats called in to talk. “I think ‘ambush’ is a better word than ‘meeting.’”
Rep. David Lujan, the House minority leader, said House Democrats gave Brewer a list of changes that would be needed to garner their support for the budget proposal, including the removal of the flat-tax provision, fewer spending cuts and a guarantee that a taxpayer bill of rights or Proposition105 overhaul would not be on the ballot for the next couple years. He said his caucus is firmly united against the ballot referral Brewer has requested.
“There would have to be significant changes to the overall budget package for us to support any single component of it, and we provided the speaker and the president and the governor with a copy of what we would need in order to support this budget proposal. It’s a pretty long list,” Lujan said.
As of late afternoon on June 30, Brewer and GOP leadership had not held similar meetings with Senate Democrats, said Sen. Rebecca Rios, the assistant minority leader.
But that changed at about 8 p.m. when Brewer also met with the Senate minority leadership team to try and reach a budget agreement.
“We had a good discussion,” said Senate Minority Leader Jorge Luis Garcia. “But the reality is that we cannot negotiate when the House was in the process of cowing (deliberating in the committee of the whole) the bills.”
The House minority leadership team also was in the room.
Senate Assistant Minority Rebecca Rios said they had been asking the governor to bring the Democrats to the negotiating table for months now.
“We were up there like May 15 and said ‘Governor, bring us in now. Don’t bring us in at the 11th hour when you need our vote’,” Rios said. “That was the same line — message — we had been giving her since before she was governor.”
Rios said they are “still open” to negotiating with the governor. But it’s got to be “sincere,” she said.
“If you are going to call us in at 8 p.m. and ask us to negotiate a budget, it is because we are literally going to sit around that table… and we are going to knock it out,” she said.
The idea is to get down to business right away, but that did not occur, Rios said.