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Brewer orders halt to budget negotiations

Gov. Jan Brewer (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Gov. Jan Brewer threw a counterpunch at GOP lawmakers following the Monday release of their budget plan, ordering a halt to meetings between the two sides’ budget staffs until the legislative budget plan is changed to address some of her key concerns.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson wouldn’t say exactly how much the Legislature will have to budge before the governor restarts budget talks. But he reiterated that legislative plans for education, health care and public safety spending are unacceptable to the governor.

“Seeing that proposal in black and white, there wouldn’t be a lot of benefit right now to the budget teams sitting down,” Benson said today.

While Republican lawmakers say there has been little progress in budget talks with the Ninth Floor and that they’re fed up with the governor, Benson put the onus for the breakdown squarely on the Legislature.

“The governor’s been as clear as can be about her concerns with the budget, her priorities and what she’d like the Legislature to address. It’s up to the Legislature to do that or not,” Benson said. “They could certainly make a good faith effort in showing that they’re recognizing the governor’s budget priorities and trying to find common ground.”

Brewer’s biggest concerns with the legislative budget plan are the omission of $100 million for school construction; another $100 million in soft capital for K-12 schools, which would pay for computers and other supplies; $50 million for 500 new maximum security prison beds; $9.2 million to pay for 73 Department of Public Safety officers; and $7 million for the Office of Tourism. Instead of providing the tourism dollars Brewer sought, the Legislature’s plan eliminates the agency entirely.

Brewer on Tuesday released a four-page outline highlighting Brewer’s chief concerns with the legislative budget. Benson said the outline is not an “all-inclusive list” of Brewer’s disagreements with the proposal, but said it should give lawmakers “a good running start” on the changes the governor wants to see.

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, wouldn’t comment on Brewer’s hardball tactics, telling the Arizona Capitol Times, “I’m not going to negotiate the budget in the press.”

Sen. Don Shooter, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was unaware of Brewer’s decision to halt staff budget talks.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I hope we can work things out,” said Shooter, R-Yuma.

Though talks between the executive and legislative budget staffs are on hold, Brewer is still meeting with Senate President Steve Pierce and House Speaker Andy Tobin, Benson said. The three last met on Tuesday to discuss the budget and other issues.

“I wouldn’t say they had any breakthroughs. But there’s time yet. It’s February,” Benson said. “The governor is a patient woman. She doesn’t have any plans to go anywhere, so we’ll be here.”

Benson’s hints that Brewer can simply wait out the Legislature evoked memories of the nearly year-long budget battle that erupted in 2009. Benson acknowledged the comparison, but emphasized that it ended well for Brewer, with lawmakers eventually giving in to her demand that they refer a temporary sales tax increase to the ballot.

“I think it was a good ending for us, though, wasn’t it? A happy ending,” he said.

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