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Brewer, GOP lawmakers at odds over budget negotiations

Legislative leaders and Gov. Jan Brewer are hoping to jumpstart budget negotiations and thaw the relationship between them that saw the governor last month direct her staff not to meet with House and Senate staff.

Brewer made her move after Republican legislative leaders, frustrated with what they felt was a my-way-or-the-highway stance from the governor, forged ahead with a budget plan of their own.

To drive home the point, their budget was crafted specifically to exclude many of the spending proposals the governor included in the plan she released in January.
But whether the negotiations continue in earnest will likely hinge on what ground GOP leaders in the House and Senate are willing to cede.

Although conventional wisdom holds that a compromise will result in both sides meeting in the middle, the political reality is that “the middle” is a large place – and the deal that is eventually struck will look a lot more like the governor’s budget than the one lawmakers forced through committee two weeks ago.

One lesson that the Republican majorities in the House and Senate – and House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Steve Pierce – will need to learn is that the governor has more political leverage. Not only is it easier for her to stick with a decision than it is for them to build consensus within their caucuses, but Brewer has time on her side. While lawmakers want to end the session by late April in order to hit the campaign trail (and get to know their new districts), the governor is not motivated by moving swiftly. Rather, she has the luxury of using their desire for a speedy session to force them to come to her – and, if not, of waiting them out, as she has no election to worry about.

These are lessons that previous Republican leaders learned about dealing with Brewer. In 2009, when lawmakers stridently resisted the governor’s call for a temporary sales tax increase to address mounting deficits, the budget fight lasted nearly the entire year.

The legislative session ended on July 1 with a budget that didn’t include the tax increase. Less than a week later, the first of three special sessions began.

The take-away from that for then-Speaker Kirk Adams and then-President Bob Burns was that there were better ways to negotiate with the governor than by publicly thumbing their nose at her requests forcing her into a match of stubborn wills.

Whether, and how long, it takes Pierce and Tobin to learn the same lesson may well be the single most important factor in determining how long this year’s legislative session lasts.

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