Bob Burns’ first year as Senate president was trouble-ridden, to put it mildly.
His task was to balance a budget that was billions of dollars in the red by rounding up 16 votes for a spending plan that nobody was going to like. It became even more challenging when the governor began pushing for a sales tax referral that the Republican majority opposed.
Success on both fronts proved elusive; the sales tax referral did not pass, and the fiscal 2010 budget is not balanced.
After a short break for the holidays, Burns appeared at a lunch event with a beard. He shaved it before the opening day of the Legislature, and returned to the Capitol looking much like he did last year. The problems he now faces, too, will be the same: closing the gap between spending and revenue.
For as long as I can remember, you’ve tried to call attention to the state’s structural deficit.
It’s unfortunate that it has to go back that far.
But a solution eluded you. Do you think you can fix it this year?
Well, I think we are running out of opportunities to avoid fixing it. We are basically out of cash reserves. We have borrowed probably to the limit as far as borrowing goes, or close to the limit. I suspect there will be possibly some proposals to do more borrowing. How many more assets can we sell?
I mean, you know, we’ve sort of used all of the options other than either making dramatic reductions in spending or coming up with some new revenue source. And the problem with the revenue side of the equation is it lags because it takes time to put it in place, and it takes a certain amount of time before the revenue flows.
I was wondering if you found the magic formula during the holiday break to deal with Senator Ron Gould.
I don’t think there is a magic formula.
A few days ago there was a story by the Cronkite News Service about lawmakers who missed a lot of votes. Some senators blamed your decision to push back hearing bills until after the budget was completed as a reason for missing their votes.
That’s an interesting copout to blame me for them missing their votes.
They were saying …
Yeah, well, I understand what they are saying. But that doesn’t compute. I was here. I voted. I mean, they have a responsibility to be here and vote.
You tried different ways to pass the sales tax referral last year and they all failed. What’s the strategy for this year?
Well, as you know, in the last special session, we were doing our best to pull on some Democrat votes.
I don’t believe we can do a referral without Democrat votes again, and so that would be the continuation of sort of the strategy we had in the last special session. I think we were there. I think we had the votes. Then the problem that came up was the timing issue. We misjudged on the timing issue, so we had to drop that.
Since you are going to hear non-budget bills early, how are you going to keep lawmakers focused on the budget?
Well, I that think that’s going to be part of how many people show up in caucus to work on providing ideas for us to solve the problem.
What do you mean?
In our caucus, when we have the budget information up on the board, they need to be there to participate. If they are not participating then maybe their bills won’t make it. I don’t know.
There needs to be participation, and people need to accept the responsibility that they have as elected officials to manage state government. I mean that’s our major, our primary, function – to manage the finances of state government.
What you are saying is you are not going to be shy using the powers of your office if you don’t see them participating in the budget process to maybe … Well, I hope I can persuade people rather than … Hold their bills?
Rather than twist arms. I’d rather hope that they would come along and work with us and try to get this done.
You and Governor Jan Brewer exchanged some pretty harsh criticisms last year as a result of the fight over the sales tax referral and the budget. Did you send her a Christmas card?
(Burns laughs). I don’t send out Christmas cards. That’s my wife’s job.
But, you know, I’ve yelled at my wife once or twice, too, in my lifetime, and we’ve been married for 49 years.
This is your final term. Have you thought about what to do next?
Yeah – I tell people I’m running for the golf course.
Seriously, any political plans after?
Not at the moment. I think I’ve got enough of a challenge in front of me right now to worry about.