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Brewer takes stern tone with lawmakers, signs budget bill

Gov. Jan Brewer had some strong words for lawmakers as she signed a bill to cut about $200 million from budget.

In her signing letter for S1001 on Dec. 23, Brewer applauded the Legislature for the cuts, which trimmed the budget deficit for fiscal year 2010 to about $1.4 billion. But she also criticized lawmakers for cutting funding for a handful of agencies, including the Department of Revenue, Department of Commerce, the state parks system and even the office of Attorney General Terry Goddard, the presumed Democratic candidate she may face in the November election.

Brewer also chastised lawmakers for what she called a lack of inclusiveness, collaboration and transparency in the drafting of the bill, and said some of the more concerning cuts could have been avoided if her office had been allowed to take a greater role in the bill-writing process.

“I certainly understand the challenging dynamics involved with crafting legislation, securing votes for passage and the need to oftentimes do so expeditiously. However, we must stop drafting budget bills in a vacuum, which often leads to unintended consequences,” wrote Brewer, who spent 14 years in the Legislature and served as Senate majority whip.

Brewer said she hoped the Legislature would reconsider some of its actions. She said she would not accept any further cuts to the Department of Revenue, and that the agency’s funding would have to be restored in 2011 to ensure the department’s ability to collect state revenues.

The governor said the cuts were unfortunate but necessary to help erase the state’s massive deficit. She acknowledged that the cuts would cause many hardships, including possibly the cancellation of the state fair in 2011.

Brewer’s criticism of the cuts to the Attorney General’s Office followed a similar statement by Goddard. In a Dec. 18 press release, Goddard said that although his office only represents about two-thirds of one percent of the state budget, it is taking about 5 percent of the overall cuts contained in the bill, and more than 10 percent of budget transfers. Previous cuts had brought his office’s general fund budget down to 1995 levels, and the new round of reductions drops it to the 1990 level, he wrote.

“I am also concerned about the public safety consequences of reductions to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. In addition, components of this budget have federal participation implications, which will result in the state having to reimburse the federal government for their portion of involvement with the applicable funds,” Brewer wrote.

The governor wrote that she would work with Goddard to determine whether his office’s general fund reductions could be offset with the transfer of other intra-office funds.

The bill, passed on Dec. 19 in the Legislature’s fifth special session of 2010, erases about $75 million from the budget by cutting 7.5 percent to most agencies’ budgets. It also includes about $79 million in sweeps from special purpose funds.

Brewer wrote that the bill gives her “broad authority” to implement cuts to agency budgets. She asked agency directors several months ago to draft reports outlining the impact of 15 percent cuts to their budgets, and Brewer wrote that she would largely use those reports as a roadmap to carry out the $75 million in cuts.

Some of the money will come in the form of pay cuts to state employees. At a Dec. 21 cabinet meeting, Brewer ordered the Department of Administration to begin preparing for 5 percent cuts to employee salaries, the maximum allowed by the bill.

Brewer emphasized that lawmakers’ work on the budget is far from done. She has urged lawmakers for much of the year to put a temporary one-cent sales tax increase and an overhaul of the Voter Protection Act on the ballot, measures she said are necessary to balance the budget. Those items were on the agenda for the recent special session, but lacked the necessary support in the Legislature.

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