Things were bad when Gov. Jan Brewer took office in January 2009, and they’ve gotten worse since then.
The plan Brewer pitched as a remedy to Arizona’s crippling budget problems met fierce resistance, and 10 months later it still has not been enacted. But as Brewer begins her second year as governor, she said she still believes in her plan, and believes the Legislature is ready to take the painful, yet necessary, measures needed to turn Arizona around.
Brewer faces a daunting task. She must balance the unresolved $1.4 billion deficit for the 2010 fiscal year, fix the $3.3 billion deficit looming for the next one, and do it all while facing an expectedly brutal election campaign.
You were kind of thrown into the deep end last year and had little time to prepare for the legislative session. Now that you’ve had time to prepare, how will things be different for you in 2010?
Of course, we know that the whole crisis has gotten larger and it needs to be resolved. And certainly now having my arms around the situation totally, I think that the future looks somewhat brighter in an effort to get it resolved.
I believe we need to do budget reform. We need to do tax reform. We need to do spending cuts. We need to address Proposition 105. And we need more revenue. It’s as simple as that.
It’s a bit late for the sales tax increase or Prop. 105 reform to have an impact on the fiscal year 2010 budget. How do you fix the deficit without that revenue?
We’re going to have do some serious cutting, again, which is going to be painful and awful. And we’re going to have to do probably some more debt financing and maybe a little bit of rollovers. But we’ve got to get it done. We’ve got to do it. And then we’ve got to move into the 2011 budget, and that’s going to be awful too because we don’t have the revenue.
So it’s going to take a lot of courage from a lot of people to do what’s right. Obviously the key lynchpin to it all is more revenue. That’s simply the answer. We can cut every state service provided by government in Arizona that’s not mandated by the federal government and still not balance our budget.
You’re proposing asking voters to either approve new funding for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System or roll back coverage they approved under Proposition 204 in 2000. Which would you prefer to see happen?
The bottom line is today we can’t sustain what Arizona provides, what the voters have deemed was what they wished for when they passed it. Who would’ve ever thought that it would’ve grown to the extent that it has grown?
But I believe the voters, at the time that they voted for it, that they really, truly believed that it was going to be funded out of the tobacco-settlement revenue. And it’s gone way above and beyond all of that. So now the general fund is picking up that huge difference to the tune of about $900 million… that they never had anticipated. So they need to have that information provided to them and then they’ve got to make that decision.
What would you say to someone who’s going to lose coverage under that plan? How would you address their concerns?
Government does not have the money. They do not have the revenue. You do the math. We’ve got X amount of dollars and we’ve got X amount of services, and it’s no different from your budget at home. What are you going to do? You’re going to cut, you’re going to balance it. And I have a responsibility as a governor to present a balanced budget.
I’m ready to negotiate. I can negotiate, however the people of Arizona see fit. But at this particular time we have no other choice than to make the budget balanced.
How much will this year’s election affect your actions and decisions this session?
I’ve never legislated, nor will I govern, given an upcoming election. Although we all operate in a political arena, we are in a catastrophic crisis, and we need to step up and do what’s right for the people. And I will do that.
I’m not going to do the political sidestep. I’m going to do what’s right for Arizona. We cannot afford not to do what’s right for Arizona. If we don’t do that quickly, Arizona could very well not be turned around for the next 10 or 15 years.
I am running for election. I’m not a quitter. There’s a huge problem facing the state of Arizona, and I’m not going to stop in the middle of it. I believe I have the solution. I have the leadership. And I believe the people of Arizona will come to understand that, if they haven’t already.
Who do you think is the most credible challenger you’ll face in the Republican primary?
I have no idea. I don’t know. As far as I’m concerned … there is absolutely no candidate out there. People can talk all they want. But until they qualify, I don’t believe that anybody’s qualified. Jan Brewer’s got her $5 bills.
One part of your AHCCCS proposal would greatly decrease mental health coverage. Considering your career-long commitment to the issue, how difficult was it to propose stripping up to 15,000 people of mental health coverage?
It was very painful. It was awful. It took me three days to determine that. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my career, something that I have tried to protect for 28 years as an elected official, because I know those people are haunted with demons. I’m very concerned about it.
Unfortunately, I have X amount of dollars and I could only get those dollars from a certain arena. I will tell you that I certainly didn’t make it lightly. I certainly know that it’s going to cause a lot of grief for those non-Title 19 populations out there (non-Medicaid eligible people). I was very concerned knowing they are so dependent on medication that I wanted money to be sure the medication was available for them, because that is the treatment for mental health in this day and age.
But they’re going to lose a lot of other services – counseling, housing, job training, those kinds of things. But they will hopefully have medication so they won’t be living with hallucinations and demons.
Another issue that’s expected to re-emerge this session is speed cameras, which you’ve said you don’t like.
No, I never said I don’t like them. I said I hated them.
In that case, are you committed to getting them off of Arizona’s highways this year?
Bottom line – how long will we have to wait before we see a balanced 2010 budget?
I’m hopeful that they move very quickly and swiftly to balance the 2010 budget, get that $1.5 billion to rest, and then move very quickly in regard to solving the 2011 budget. My budget will be presented on the 15th. It’s a starting point. There’s things in there that people won’t like. There’s things in there that I’m not comfortable with. There’s things in there for everyone not to be comfortable with. But these are bad times in Arizona.
I’m open, again, to any proposal that the Legislature might bring me from both sides of the aisle, and we will work through it. At this point in time, I’m the only one who has a proposal. I’m the only one who has a solution. And it’s a solution that we’ve had since March.
It’s pretty simple – tax reform, budget reform, spending cuts, Proposition 105 and revenue. And if we do that collectively, together, we will have our budget problems solved. And it won’t be easy. It will be hard and it will be painful. But we will start Arizona going back to the right direction.
How long will it take to get the fiscal year 2011 budget completed, considering how long the last budget took?
I think the gravity of the problem now has been embraced. I think the people understand the issues. I think they’re more acutely aware of what we are facing and the cliffs, and that they have a responsibility to send me a balanced budget.
You said there will be some things in your 2011 budget proposal that people won’t like. What will those things be?
Anytime you have a budget deficit of this magnitude, there’s going to be something in there. Obviously when you have only have $6.7 billion in revenue and you’ve got a $3.4 billion deficit that you need to cut out of there, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room. And government, of course, provides a lot of things that people sometimes don’t always understand where it’s coming from.
House Republicans just pitched their economic development proposal. What will your proposal be to bring new jobs to Arizona? Besides reform the tax code, what else does the state need to do?
I’m very, very proud of the fact that we have revamped totally the Department of Commerce and cleaned house, brought in someone from the private sector to run that, Don Cardon, who’s been very, very successful. We have reached out to the businesses here and the organizations here in Arizona, worked hand-in-hand with them. We’ve reached out outside the state to encourage and to work with businesses.
Certainly we need to address the tax reform portion of it to become more competitive with the outlying states so that those companies are more inclined to come to Arizona.
I think by putting a moratorium on rules and regulations, (we’re) telling the business community that government is going to get out of the way, come here and do business here in Arizona.
I signed the tax credit bill on renewable energy, which initiated more than 200 inquiries from businesses outside of the state of Arizona that are interested in coming to Arizona. And out of those, 40 of them are very, very interested in coming to Arizona because of that tax incentive bill.