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Brewer hopes showing impact of cuts will spur revenue increase

Gov. Jan Brewer is hoping that lawmakers who opposed her plan for a sales tax increase will be spurred to action once they see how future budget cuts will impact the state.

At Brewer’s request, all state agency heads were required to submit reports detailing the effects 15-20 percent spending reductions would have on their departments. Those reports, which were due Oct. 9, are intended partly to demonstrate to the Legislature that sizeable cuts would have dramatic consequences, according to Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman.

“Without a serious discussion of revenues, if there continues to be no willingness by any of the Democratic members and a handful of Republicans to at least allow the citizens of Arizona to have a say on revenues, then the reality is the state has about anywhere between 15-20 percent less money to spend on its services,” Senseman said. “This exercise should go to describe exactly what that’s going to mean.”

The reports, however, may not end up being the catalyst for which Brewer is looking. House Appropriations Chairman Rep. John Kavanagh, who voted for a budget package that included a special election sought by Brewer on her sales tax plan, suggested that the reports may help guide lawmakers – but it may guide them further away from Brewer’s goal, not toward it.

“I think it’s an informative exercise that will help guide us when we eventually have to make cuts,” the Fountain Hills Republican said.

Senseman did not say whether Brewer was willing to impose across-the-board cuts of 15-20 percent for every state agency. Since introducing her five-point economic plan, which included the temporary sales tax increase she wants referred to the ballot, Brewer has spoken often of her refusal to gut spending for education, public safety and social services.

Brewer also sent a strong signal about where she wants to prevent spending reductions with an early September veto of $500 million in budget cuts to the Department of Economic Security and Department of Education. She nixed $172 million in cuts to DES, whose fiscal 2010 budget is set at almost $718 million, and preserved $359 million for the Department of Education’s $4 billion budget. The vetoes helped contribute to the $1.5 billion budget deficit now facing the state for the current fiscal year.

But without more revenue, Brewer said, “There will be probably a lot of programs that will have to be done away with,” though she and Senseman did not specify which programs were most likely to get the ax.

DES spokesman Steve Meissner did not say which programs the agency was eying as the first to go if 15-20 percent cuts are implemented, but said the decrease in services would be noticeable. Because of the poor economy and an unemployment rate that is slightly higher than 9 percent in Arizona, people who never thought they would need government assistance are coming to DES at a time when the agency’s resources are on the decline, he said.

“(Brewer) wants to show people the reality of what we’re talking about,” Meissner said. “We’re not in a position where you can make that cut without affecting services.”

Department of Health Services Director Will Humble said about 70 percent of his agency’s budget is off limits due to voter-mandated spending requirements that were passed in 2000. So, if 20 percent – about $73 million – were cut from the department’s budget, Humble said, the money likely would come from mental health, operating funds and the Arizona State Hospital.

“The challenge for us is we’ve got about 70 percent of our pie which is off limits, essentially. So any reductions have to come out of a very small piece of the pie. Which by the way, is not unlike state government generally,” Humble said.

Brewer insists, as she had since March, that the answer is to put her proposed 1-cent sales tax increase on the ballot. She suggested that the 15-20 percent cuts could be avoided if lawmakers come back to the Capitol for a special session to fix the budget deficit, including approving the ballot referral she has sought.

“It continues to worsen,” Brewer said of the deficit, “so I’m looking forward to working with the legislators and find out just exactly what they believe that solution is going to be.”

Kavanagh said the governor should start by reinstating the $500 million in cuts she vetoed. He said he and Sen. Russell Pearce, his counterpart on the Senate Appropriations Committee, drew up a list of potential cuts early in the legislative session, which put the onus on Brewer for coming up with a more detailed plan. If the report is just a “laundry list” with no input about priorities, Kavanagh said, Brewer will have only muddied the waters.

“We’ll see what the results of this exercise are,” Kavanagh said. “Anybody can construct a menu. Leaders construct plans. I don’t need a menu from the governor. I need a plan from the governor, and then we can work off of that.”

Brewer’s request is reminiscent of a similar one earlier in the year when she asked all agency heads to submit reports detailing the effects of 5, 10, 15 and 20 percent cuts to their budgets. Senseman said that exercise was “somewhat useful” because they revealed exactly what additional reductions would mean for the agencies.

Senseman said the reports on the 15-20 percent cuts would be made public.

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