After a brutal first legislative session, Gov. Jan Brewer ended her second on a couple of high notes.
Her 14-month quest to raise revenue with a temporary sales tax increase sailed through in the May 18 special election. She raised her profile, and her polling numbers, when she signed the toughest illegal immigration law in the country, and she now looks like the favorite to win the Republican nomination in August.
But there is still a lot of unanswered questions about Arizona’s economy, the enforcement of S1070, whether the many boycotts that are being organized will take their toll on the state, and whether Proposition 100 will be enough to pull Arizona out of its fiscal tailspin.
Brewer still has two elections to win before she’ll be able to return to the Ninth Floor in 2011, but she is already looking ahead to the next session.
You seemed pretty relieved when you gave your victory speech. How relieving was it to see Prop. 100 pass after so long?
I was happy. That’s the word. I was very, very happy that it had passed because I think it’s a step in turning Arizona around, righting the ship. This is the beginning of the comeback. It is something now that we don’t have to discuss or talk about anymore.
So you think the economy will have recovered by the time Prop. 100 expires three years from now and the state will be bringing in enough revenue to sustain its current spending levels?
I do. I believe that we’re beginning to see now an increase in revenue, and I think we’re seeing an increase in retail sales. I think that we’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, although probably far out, three years. But it has begun.
Even with this extra $1 billion per year from Prop. 100, will the state still need additional budget cuts?
I think that we are still going to look at some streamlining and do it consciously and carefully. I always said that the one-cent tax was not a cure-all. I said that every time I spoke to any crowd that I spoke to, that it wasn’t a cure-all. But it’s the beginning.
With the economy turning around and more streamlining, it will get us through.
What are the chances that we’ll see more cuts to K-12 education or universities? Considering Arizona’s fiscal state, is that still a possibility over the next year or two?
You can’t look into a crystal ball and determine that. We certainly hope that that is not the case. … We’ll just stay tuned and we’ll see.
Were you surprised by the intensity of the backlash against S1070?
I was. I knew that it would be … talked about and there would be a response for a couple days, but I had no idea it would elicit the response that it did. I think it was a little bit overwhelming to most people and it was based primarily on mischaracterization and mistruths about what the bill did.
I think now, as we are moving out from it a little bit, that people now – and I quote – have read the bill, which is an important factor, and understand that it mirrors federal law and that racial profiling is illegal.
I think that that commotion will all die down.
S1070 has an explicit prohibition against racial profiling, but many critics are worried that it will lead to profiling anyway. What would you say to those critics, and how will the state and law enforcement agencies respond if that happens?
(People can respond) like they always have. They can file suit. Profiling has been illegal in the state of Arizona. We’ve seen these (cases) taken to court before. They will continue, I suppose, if we’ve got somebody out there who feels like they have been racially profiled, they’ll take it to court, no different than what they did two years ago.
Another question people have about S1070 is the driver’s license issue. The law says police must accept an Arizona license as valid ID, but what about out-of-state licenses, including states that allow illegal immigrants to get licenses?
I believe that the officer will use his judgment that he’s been trained at. And if he has reasonable suspicions, we’ll find a way to get that documented.
How concerned are you about the impact the boycotts will have on Arizona’s economy?
First of all, I’m very disappointed that any elected body or elected official would ever do that because it’s something that I would never do personally myself. Why would you harm innocent people who would affected by that?
It’s a well-known fact that the tourism industry, the hospitality industry, engages a lot of minorities as employees. I would venture to say 80 percent of them are probably here legally. And now they want to boycott that industry, and to take their livelihoods away from them makes absolutely no sense.
But will the boycotts hurt tourism and take money away from the state?
I certainly hope not. As you are well aware, I called my office of tourism and my Department of Commerce together, along with the people in the hospitality industry to see exactly what the issue was as they saw it, and is there some way that we can collectively work together to try to address it.
We had a very good, lengthy discussion, and I’m hopeful that they will come back with some ideas that we can do to fend off any of that.
How can you “fend off” the effects of the boycott when these cities and groups are saying they won’t call off the boycotts until S1070 is off the books?
The committees … are coming together with some ideas, and we’ll explore those ideas to see what it is that we can do.
There are a lot of different things that we can do, but it’s going to take those experts to help us come together. But I think it’s going to die down.
OK. Well, what are the chances that you’ll call the Legislature back for a special session to pass a bill to create more jobs in the state?
I don’t think they want to come back into session. I think that they are glad that they’re out there and they’re looking forward to a little break and then campaigning. We can come back in January and start the process and work together with a jobs package.
Considering the economic problems we’re having, can the state afford to wait until 2011 to pass a jobs bill?
I think so. Even during these bad economic times, Arizona and my Department of Commerce have been very, very successful. We have brought $1 billion worth of hard assets into the state, capital investment, and we have brought thousands of jobs. We’ve had over 25 businesses, new startups, here in Arizona.
And we have been successful in getting businesses that are here, helping them get through the red tape and the green tape by the moratorium on rules and regulations that everyone has been very, very grateful for. The legislation that we passed for the tax credit has been very, very helpful.
When you guys address a jobs package next year, would you be willing to consider the corporate tax cuts that many lawmakers are looking for?
I think that would be a good thing to discuss next year.
So tax cuts are on the table? You’re not ruling them out?
Everything is always on the table with Jan Brewer.
But those tax cuts have been controversial. Many Democrats are saying we shouldn’t pass corporate tax cuts after asking Arizonans to raise their own taxes.
It’s certainly not entirely up to me. There were people in the Legislature who realized we could not afford it. We simply couldn’t afford what was being prepared. It was at least relayed to me that it was all of it or nothing.
There was no compromise position, and so it was not able to get out of the Legislature. But when we get back in session, those kinds of things are always on the table. The dialogue is open.