Gov. Jan Brewer has never had a legislative session like this.
After three years of fiscal crises and emergency budget fixes, Brewer went into the 2012 legislative session with a projected surplus. The biggest budget problem Brewer faces now is what to do with as much as $1.5 billion in extra revenue.
Brewer believes she and the Republican majorities in the Legislature are on the same page on a handful of important issues, from her personnel reform plan to education to the calls for more economic development. And after her State of the State address, GOP lawmakers are optimistic too.
Of course, there are always bumps in the road. Since the 2011 session ended, Brewer and the Legislature have butted heads on a slew of vetoes, unemployment benefits and whether to call another special session on redistricting. But Brewer said those disagreements are in the past and is looking forward to a session of cooperation.
For the first time since you’ve become governor, we’re starting a session without a deficit and have a positive cash balance. What do you want the state to do with that money?
First, let me say that’s a result of all our hard work and our plans that we put into effect when I first became governor. Now we’re reaping the rewards of that. So, I’m moving into 2012 and working with the Legislature.
We’re going to keep our minds on the same track of where we’ve been, being fiscally responsible and hopefully taking some of those surplus dollars and using them for one-time expenses.
A lot of lawmakers have pet projects they want to use that money for, a few million here and there. How much of that can we afford?
That’s something that I’m not at liberty to know what they’re proposing. Nothing has been presented to me from the Legislature in regards to the revenue. But that is the body of where that gets debated. And certainly, as it moves through the process, we will either weigh in or we will weigh out and then determine if it works with the plan. But I absolutely want to make sure we keep the state budget positive.
How much of that money do you want to use to replenish the Rainy Day Fund or pay off the state’s debts?
As much as we can possibly afford.
What are your top priorities for the session?
As always, my top priorities are jobs, the economy and education.
What about major policy issues like personnel reform?
Personnel reform is a huge issue. I think it’s really, really important to update the state of Arizona and be able to put people in the position to reward those good employees and move forward.
I think that it’s outdated. I think that it holds back our good employees and I think it holds back performance. I think if we change the personnel model that we’re looking to move forward with, it will serve us much better.
We’ll have a much more productive workforce. We’ll be having happier employees. The dead wood can be disciplined and can be helped to improve.
We’ve got new leadership in both chambers, and you got off to a rocky start with Speaker Tobin during the special session on unemployment benefits. Do you feel that will continue into the session?
I don’t even remember that rocky time with Mr. Tobin, to tell you the truth. I think each year brings a new dawn and we’re going to get along just fine. We’ve had a very good working relationship and I’m looking forward to working with him.
A lot of lawmakers were also upset over some of your vetoes last session, and many were surprised by them. Are people still upset about that?
I haven’t been in contact with anybody that has mentioned to me that they’re upset about their vetoes. But having been a former legislator, I had a couple of bills vetoed and I know at the time when it happened you wonder why.
I tried on all my vetoes to give an explanation so they know why I vetoed it, and therefore they have an idea that, if indeed they want to introduce similar legislation, it better kind of fit within those parameters of my concerns.
Some lawmakers said after the vetoes that they didn’t think the Governor’s Office communicated its concerns about legislation. Do you think that criticism was warranted?
Criticism is something that comes with this job. When you sit as governor, there’s a lot of criticism, and I take it with great thought. But the bottom line is communication goes both ways.
Do you plan on changing the way you communicate with legislators?
I have a very open-door policy and every one of them, I hope, has my phone number and they know who my staff are and they can communicate. And I am open. I am open. I have never refused a phone call from any legislator.
I have never refused a meeting, that I’m aware of, with any legislator. I try to make myself available. I am a people person. It’s the same with my constituents in the state. I am very open. I’m a pretty open person.
A lot of lawmakers are focusing on what they can do to boost economic development and bring jobs to Arizona, and Speaker Tobin, among others, is planning a major bill.
To me, that is good news. We want economic development. And that is the body where they deliberate and discuss those kinds of issues. And I’m open to that.
What more can Arizona do to boost the economy?
Generally speaking, I think that the Legislature and myself are all on the same page. We want jobs. We want to turn the economy around. We’re interested in education. We want to see personnel reform. After that, I think we need to go home and get these elections out of the way.
Do we need more tax cuts, more incentives or something else?
I will weigh in on that at the appropriate time. I always believe in lower taxes.
What are your plans for education this session?
I think that my Arizona Ready commission, headed up by Craig Barrett, is going to be very instrumental in getting education on the forefront of the country, moving forward with the things that we have already initiated and for them to get implemented. So, I’m very, very anxious to see them moving forward.
One of my biggest goals, of course, is to continue to get more parent involvement. And if we get our data system set up so that they can have that kind of Internet exchange and be able to monitor their schools and speak with their teachers and have those kinds of resources, then they’ll be more apt to participate in their children’s education.