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Democrats won’t float budget bills without GOP assurances

David Lujan (Photo by Ryan J. Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

David Lujan (Photo by Ryan J. Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Democratic state lawmakers are hoping 2010 is a better year than 2009.

Last year, they were shut out of the budget-crafting process and were only seriously involved in discussions at the very end – when it became clear Republicans couldn’t muster the votes on their own.

House Minority Leader David Lujan said Democrats don’t control their own destiny because Gov. Jan Brewer and Republican leaders need to invite them to the negotiating table. And he said the latest GOP proposal to allow Democrats to craft their own budget bills is not a sincere offer.

How do you plan to help produce a balanced budget? You’re in the minority. Last year, you were more or less shut out of the process.

Because we are the minority, it’s up to the governor and the speaker and the president to bring everybody together. Let’s hope the governor doesn’t wait until Aug. 21 this year to bring all five parties into the same room.

Let’s talk about budget cuts. Your caucus position has been that some cuts are necessary, especially for programs that are wasteful or redundant. Where are those?

It’s difficult, because we have made some significant cuts, and so many of our agencies are already hurting beyond what they can bear.

But we have to take a comprehensive approach to getting out of this economic crisis. We have to look at cuts and we have to look at revenue.

Regarding cuts, how much is too much?

I don’t know if you could put a dollar amount on it. I don’t know at what point it becomes too much, but I know that for many of our agencies, we already have hit the point where it’s too much.

When people are losing their health care, when we’re closing our state parks, when rest stops are closing, I think that we’ve already passed the line of too much in some places.

Speaker Kirk Adams has said a couple of times that he wants Democrats to draft budget bills, and he will guarantee they get a hearing in committee and on the floor. Will you do that?

I think we would take the same approach that the Republicans do. They put together their budget bills when they’ve got 31 votes in the House and 16 in the Senate. If what he’s saying is that he’s ready to work with us, and when we have the opportunity to have 31 and 16 on a Democratic bill, we’ll put that bill together and we’d be happy to have a vote on it.

OK. So you’re not planning on putting together a bill and just allowing it to be considered in committee?

No. They don’t do that either. They don’t put their budget bills out until usually an hour before we’re ready to vote on them.

We’ll take the same approach. When they’re ready to vote on our bills and we’ve got a coalition – what it’s about is working together in a bipartisan fashion on something that both parties can vote on.

Do you think the invitation to draft bills is sincere?

I think it’s politics. The speaker and the governor and the Republicans continue to want to shift the blame for their inability to get anything done around here. So, they are trying to put out this message that the Democrats should put out a bill.

Anyone who’s familiar with the legislative process knows that’s not sincere, because that’s not the way budget bills are done.

Since the year began, both Brewer and Republicans have been talking about creating new jobs. That figures to be their central message this year. What is the central message for House Democrats?

I think it’s the same thing. This session is all about jobs. Our No. 1 priority is creating jobs for Arizonans.

Obviously, the budget is the top task. But I think the choices we make in how we balance the budget are going to go a long way in being able to create jobs.

How would your approach to job creation differ from what House Republicans unveiled last week?

Creating jobs does not mean giving millions of dollars to business in corporate tax giveaways.
We have seen Republicans do this for the past 20 years, at least, and it’s proven to be a failure in terms of trying to create jobs. That’s why we’re in the economic crisis we’re in. If we want to create jobs, Democrats believe we need to first create a quality education system so we can develop a workforce to attract businesses to Arizona. So, we need to make sure we’re not making drastic cuts to our education system.

It also requires us to continue to support programs like Science Foundation Arizona, which has proved to create jobs. We can invest in solar and other renewable energy.

Rep. John Kavanagh wants to ask voters to suspend the voter-protection clause of the state Constitution and let lawmakers access half of the tax revenues and fund balances for voter-approved measures for three years. How does that sound to you?

I think if they put this on the ballot, voters would soundly defeat it. The reason voters have approved each of these initiatives in the past is that voters were frustrated that the Legislature wouldn’t fund these programs to begin with.

The reason Proposition 105 is in place is because the people of Arizona didn’t want to see the Legislature raiding these funds, because they feel these are important programs, and they want the funding going to these programs.

It’s time for the final question: When do you get to stop telling people you are “exploring” a run and officially become a candidate for attorney general?

Possibly before this goes to print. I would say sometime this week.

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