Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget proposal will be a hard sell to Democrats.
And some provisions, such as her temporary sales tax increase, will be difficult for Republicans to embrace.
Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia said the worst part of Brewer’s plan is a proposal to reduce AHCCCS eligibility, which would eliminate state health care coverage for many low-income Arizonans by asking voters to overturn Proposition 204, a massive expansion of Medicaid they approved in 2000.
As long as Prop. 204 is on the table, Garcia said, Democrats likely will stand united against her, no matter how much she talks with them.
“I can tell you that if any Democrat votes for her budget as it was released – poor Democrat, man,” he said. “Any Democrat who is willing to support the governor on eliminating health care for 310,000 people, I’ll make sure that they get examined by their constituents.”
Republicans, on the other hand, said Brewer is spending more time addressing the concerns of individual lawmakers than she did last year. That extra effort might be helpful to get some of her ideas through the Legislature, but the sales tax increase might be a no-go with many Republican lawmakers.
“She has generally come around to the position that we were advocating last session with regard to the cuts. The only real disagreement I see now is the immediate (passage) of the sales tax, which will not happen,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills.
“But I think we can definitely get it referred, so long as we’re also given the opportunity to enact future tax cuts, not necessarily tied to the sales tax.”
Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce said expecting a supermajority of lawmakers to vote for a sales tax increase is unworkable.
“She is asking for a 20-40 vote,” he said. “I don’t know where that’s going to come from.”
Even though it might get her nowhere on the sales tax increase, rank- and-file Republicans said they’ve noticed a change in Brewer’s attitude. They said they hope that means she’ll be more willing to address their concerns when the budget bills move forward.
“She seems to be reaching out, and her door is wide open for all of us,” said Rep. David Stevens, a Republican from Sierra Vista. “All you’ve got to do is call and make an appointment.”
Sen. Jack Harper, a Republican from Surprise, said the governor followed bad advice last year on how to pursue her legislative agenda.
He said the change in strategy, as well as the experience she has gained since her battlefield promotion to the Governor’s Office, should ease the tension.
“Her people are individually talking to the legislators,” he said. “She has asked leadership to run a checklist, a laundry list, to see who supports her budget plan. And so they’re covering their bases, as they should when time is short.”
Rep. Tom Chabin, a Flagstaff Democrat, said Brewer has requested a meeting with him, which he said he views it as a good sign for bipartisan cooperation on the budget.
“I’m very, very pleased and happy to sit down. I’m looking for leadership. I’m looking for 20 votes on each side, not 16 and not 31,” Chabin said. “It’s my first appointment with the Governor’s Office since Governor Brewer came around.”
Other Democrats, though, see things from a different perspective.
Rep. David Schapira, a Democrat from Tempe, said Brewer is making it appear as though she wants to cooperate, yet not much has changed.
“She wants to work with us. She wants to be bipartisan. Well, she said that privately,” he said. “I’ve been on the Appropriations Committee for three years, and I’ve never had less communication from the Governor’s Office than now.”
Sen. Ken Cheuvront, a Phoenix Democrat, said the only time Brewer reaches out to Democrats is when her back is against the wall. That happened last year when Brewer called meetings with several Democratic lawmakers after it became apparent that she did not have enough Republican votes to pass her ballot referral.
“The only time they seem to reach out is when they’re looking to buy a vote at the end of the year,” Cheuvront said.
Rep. Phil Lopes, a Democrat from Tucson, said it would be a mistake for Brewer to deal with individual Democrats instead of minority leadership. The Democrats are still pushing for five-party budget talks between the four legislative caucuses and the Governor’s Office, a request that Brewer has denied for more than a year.
“The problem isn’t a lack of ideas. We’ve got a lot of good ideas,” Lopes said. “What’s lacking is a mechanism where we come together and try to reach some consensus.”
If Brewer reaches out across the aisle, she might find enough votes for a ballot referral on the sales tax increase.
Republican Sen. Linda Gray and Democratic Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor said they collaborated during the December special session on a bipartisan compromise for a ballot referral. Both senators said they had enough votes in their caucuses to pass the referral, but ultimately did not have enough time to bring it to a vote to get it on the ballot in March.
“If we could’ve just even had a couple more days we would’ve been able to get it through,” Landrum Taylor said.
Click here to read “Brewer budget plan a tenuous proposition.”