By the time Republicans called it a day, it almost seemed like a textbook case of what to do — if you don’t want a special session to succeed.
And it wouldn’t have been half as interesting if it weren’t for the fact that all the lead players in the drama belong to the same party.
On Friday, Republican lawmakers responded to a call by Gov. Jan Brewer to convene a special session in order to pass legislation extending unemployment benefits by 20 weeks.
When they couldn’t reach a final agreement with the governor, legislators decided to resume work today — but only to conclude the session without an extension of the jobless aid program.
Brewer and her spokesman have repeatedly asserted that she believed the votes were in place in the Senate and the House would later be persuaded to support it. But Senate President Russell Pearce said he told the governor’s office on Thursday that the votes weren’t there in his chamber.
When Friday’s session ended with no action, the situation quickly deteriorated as the two sides dug in.
Republican lawmakers said they wanted to see some type of legislation to spur economic growth, not just to extend unemployment aid. Brewer responded that she already made some concessions and the state already enacted the largest corporate tax cuts in its history earlier this year.
Then the two sides engaged in a verbal tussle, a situation that reminded some of the skirmishes between the governor and the Legislature in 2009, when Brewer began her push for a temporary sales tax increase.
The situation left some Democrats, whose support Brewer needed in order to pass her proposal with an emergency clause, upset. Some of them had to cancel out-of-town trips in order to help pass what they had been clamoring for.
Meanwhile, some Republicans accused the governor of attempting to marginalize the Legislature’s authority and Brewer was just as acerbic in her criticism of those who blocked the proposal out of a belief that extending the aid would make the federal deficit larger.
Typically, a special session is called only when votes have been secured, a deal is sealed, and lawmakers are ready to convene and quickly end the session after passing the agreement.
Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor was “disappointed” that the Legislature missed an opportunity to boost the economy while throwing a lifeline to 45,000 Arizonans who are out of work. He also maintained the governor asked lawmakers back to the Capitol believing she had sufficient support for her proposal.
“The governor would not have called this legislative session if she had not believed she had sufficient support in the Legislature to get this accomplished. Certainly, we’re disappointed that that did not happen, but that’s politics,” Benson said.
Benson said the governor would still like to extend the benefits, but acknowledged that there’s no way to do that without a “significant change of heart” at the Legislature.
“She’s still interested in getting the extension of the unemployment aid, but there’s no imminent plan to call another special session or anything of that sort,” Benson said.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, was unimpressed by Republicans’ handing of the session. The governor and Republican leaders had known about this issue during the regular session earlier this year but ignored it, she said.
“The governor called a special session having made no preparations and no plans to get this bill passed and as a former legislator and as a former majority whip, she should know better,” Sinema said.
“That being said, we should have just voted it out on Friday. It’s an easy fix,” she added.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, was even harsher in criticizing the governor.
“She did it just to spite us,” he said. “She’s created a bunch of grief for us by calling us into a special session that had no deal, on 24 hours’ notice, (on) the day before the deadline, so she could throw us under the bus on Saturday morning.”
Gould’s point is the governor can wash her hands by claiming she did her part but lawmakers just can’t get it done. Saturday was when the extended jobless aid program, which is federally funded, expires.
The Legislature’s decision to adjourn sine die today means the end of additional 20 weeks of unemployment benefits to some 15,000 Arizonans.
For out-of-work Arizonans who anticipated the aid’s extension, the session must have seemed like a roller coaster ride. It offered a glimmer of hope, which faded away just as quickly.
“Republican lawmakers failed to show one iota of sympathy or understanding for the plight of individuals and families suffering through one of the worst job markets in decades,” Rebekah Friend, executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO, said in a statement.
The special session was over but legislative leaders did not discount the possibility of further talks with Brewer to try and come up with a compromise.
“I have it made it clear to the Governor’s Office the door is open,” said Senate President Russell Pearce. “What we’re not going to do is sit around for several days at a cost to the taxpayers while we negotiate a deal.”
Democrats lamented today’s non-action.
Assistant House Minority Leader Steve Farley said accepting the federal money and putting it into the hands of Arizonans would have meant an immediate economic boost for the state.
“These families are spending (their unemployment benefits) on food at their local stores,” he said. “They’re spending here locally. That creates jobs.”
But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said it would be disingenuous for legislators to complain about federal overspending but take every dollar offered to the state.
“Almost every day we’re here, we complain about the federal government spending,” he said. “But when they’re willing to give us some of that money, we say, ‘Oh, we’ll take it.’”
– Reporters Caitlin Coakley and Jeremy Duda contributed to this story.