Gov. Jan Brewer said Monday that Arizona should celebrate the its approaching Feb. 14 centennial and the state’s improving finances by buying back several high-profile state buildings that were sold to close earlier budget shortfalls.
While Arizona’s future is again bright, “there’s just one problem, most of our Capitol Complex, including the building we gather in today, is not ours,” Brewer, a Republican, told lawmakers in her State of the State address to a joint session in the House chamber.
Brewer said she would present the Legislature with a detailed policy wish-list after the address, but she asked lawmakers during the speech to send her a bill before Statehood Day to allow the state to repurchase the House and Senate buildings and the nine-story Executive Tower.
Arizona’s finances are now healthier after years of budget cuts and borrowing so “we can celebrate the burning of that mortgage,” Brewer said.
The three buildings were among 22 state properties included in $1 billion sale-leaseback financing to help close previous years’ budget gaps. The copper-domed Old Capitol, which now houses a museum, was not included in the sale-leaseback transactions.
Brewer and lawmakers in 2011 largely eschewed additional such borrowing while writing the budget for the current fiscal year, instead relying in cuts in spending for education, health care and other services.
“I know the struggles in this chamber were not fun, and I know sometimes tempers were frayed, patience abandoned and decorum tested,” Brewer said, adding, “But I also know this: Arizona has been saved.”
Voters in 2010 approved a temporary sales tax increase at Brewer’s urging while she and lawmakers in 2010 and 2011 also used borrowing and other budget gimmickry — along with spending cuts — to close budget shortfalls.
While education supporters have said they plan an initiative measure to extend the sales tax past mid-2013, Brewer said it will end on schedule.
“Together, just like last year, let’s continue to lower taxes, to cut regulation and tell all employers that Arizona means business,” Brewer said to applause from the Republican-led Legislature. “Arizona is open for business.”
Brewer praised the Grand Canyon State’s heritage as one of strength and tradition, and she said she’ll continue to work for continued economic recovery and growth and federal respect for states’ rights.
The federal government should cooperate with Arizona and not neglect its duty on border security, impose unfunded health care mandates or implement management policies that leave forests vulnerable to massive wildfires, Brewer said.
Brewer said Arizona should stick with a smaller and more affordable state government.
“In my mind, it’s pretty simple: less government means more freedom and opportunity for Arizonans,” Brewer said.
State government will be “limited, efficient and nimble,” Brewer said, adding that it will include her proposed changes in personnel practices. Those changes, which are subject to likely legislative approval, include making it easier for state officials to discipline and fire poor-performing workers. Union officials have said the changes could open the door for cronyism.
The State of the State address was Brewer’s third. She was the elected secretary of state when she became governor in January 2009 after Democrat Janet Napolitano resigned midterm to become U.S. Homeland Security secretary. Brewer won a four-year term of her own in 2010.