Kirk Adams was elected speaker of the House after campaigning on a platform of opening up the budget process to make it more transparent to lawmakers and the public. How well that was achieved has been debated throughout the session at the Capitol, but Adams maintains the Legislature is moving toward that goal.
He said those who complain that the process was not transparent are simply ignoring the strides that were made this year.
Adams spoke with Arizona Capitol Times July 30 about his first session at the helm of the House, what made this year unique and why Democrats didn’t play much of a role in the process.
What was the most difficult aspect of the 2009 regular session?
That’s easy. It’s the budget.
What led to this budget being more difficult than in other years?
The consistent decline in state revenues each and every month produced a situation where we would develop a solution and then have to go back and revisit it because the problem kept getting worse and worse and worse.
Not knowing where the bottom was and literally having the bottom fall out from under us on several occasions produced a budgeting process that was more chaotic than anybody would have liked.
Give us a quick history of your relationship with Governor Brewer, going back to when you learned she would become governor.
We reached out to her very early, when it became clear that Governor Napolitano would be resigning. We wanted to be able to work together very closely with her, knowing that we were coming into a very difficult situation with the state budget crisis.
I think the relationship, while it’s been tested at times, it still remains that she’s the governor and she has every right to push for the things that she believes in.
When she came out with her proposal for the sales tax increase, that obviously was a game-changer. That has been a bit like carrying a piano up 10 flights of stairs. It hasn’t been easy.
Did you expect the relationship to be as contentious as it has been at times?
The short answer is no, we did not expect it to be contentious. The contention has really revolved around issues – it hasn’t been about personalities, necessarily, but how we resolve a difficult budget problem.
Why were Democrats not involved in the budget process in any meaningful way during the regular session? It took until July before you started negotiating with them.
Democrats were certainly invited and encouraged to be involved, but they did not produce any ideas or plans that had a realistic chance of achieving 31 and 16 votes. If it’s a proposal that has no chance whatsoever of getting across the finish line, then it’s really just posturing, not negotiating.
We were hopeful that they would come forward with something that really could be achievable, but a $2 billion tax increase is not achievable.
Their argument is that they were never invited to the table to begin with because Republicans were never interested in their ideas or negotiating with them.
I would dispute that, because we did ask them for their proposals and ideas. We went through their first and second proposals. But if you’re given a proposal that is a non-starter, that is simply a posturing document, that’s not a serious effort.
Furthermore, there were several opportunities for them to work with us in a bipartisan fashion and they chose not to do so. I think the best example is the situation with the April 15 deadline for teacher contracts. We had two-thirds of the education community asking the Legislature to fix this so that teachers would not artificially be laid off. The Democrats chose to take an extremely partisan route rather than practically solve a real problem.
I think, for the Republican caucus, that was an indicator that their call for bipartisan talks was really more about posturing and rhetoric than about wanting to get the job done.
You’ve spoken a lot about how things would be different this year in terms of the budget process and the Appropriations Committee – how it would be open and transparent. How was the budget more open and transparent this year than in the past?
I think we laid all the cards on the table, starting with the first week of session, when we told the world what the menu of options were for balancing the budget. We literally laid it all out there. In hindsight, there were several weeks of bludgeoning the Republican legislators because (critics) were able to cherry pick a few things.
I don’t think we’re anywhere near where we would like to be in terms of transparency, but I think we made significant progress, particularly in the fact that the bulk of the budget was developed primarily through the work of the members of the Appropriations Committee.
Did people have the wrong assumption, that when you said the Appropriations Committee would do the budget, that it meant the committee would, in its hearings, craft the plan line by line, agency by agency?
I don’t think I could ever satisfy the demands of the minority in terms of transparency. If it’s not the way that they want it, it’s not transparent.
There has been no shortage of details that have been made public, that have been debated openly. Everybody knows about the options. We issued another proposal March 29, publicly releasing the entire spreadsheet. And another one at the end of April. We’ve posted these on the Internet.
There’s still work to do, no doubt about it. We can always do better.
2009 Session Wrap coverage:
A session to remember – even if you don’t want to
Brewer reflects on tumultuous first session as guv
Burns’ gambit: Inside Senate president’s strategy
House minority leader gives Legislature an ‘F’
Garcia says he needed 1 more Dem in Senate
Capitol Quotes – Best of the Session