After weeks of budget talks with no agreement in sight, Gov. Jan Brewer gave legislative leaders an ultimatum, telling them she would veto bills until work on the state’s spending plan is complete.
“The governor has indicated to leadership that, outside of the bills that are on her desk now, she won’t sign any more bills until there’s a budget,” Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said on April 17, the 100th day of session.
Brewer’s veto warning revealed a frustration at the progress of the budget talks. It also stood in sharp contrast to earlier repeated assurances by lawmakers that negotiations were going well.
If the governor threatened a blanket veto to grab policymakers’
attention, she appeared to be succeeding. The veto warning clearly raised the stakes for both the governor and lawmakers.
But rather than force a quicker budget resolution, it could result in more heartburn between the two sides.
In fact, there were indications some Republicans might be taking a look at abandoning negotiations with the governor in favor of working with Democrats to ensure a veto-proof super majority behind a budget.
Though it may be unlikely to ever happen, lawmakers confirmed that the idea is gaining traction at the state Capitol.
“I have heard people discuss that,” Senate President Steve Pierce told the Arizona Capitol Times. “I don’t care to go (in) that direction.”
Pierce said the price for such a route is potentially pretty steep.
“If members chose to go that way, they have to remember that the governor will veto all our bills from now on. So, she has the upper hand. She has the same clout in one pen that we have in 30,” Pierce said.
But Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs didn’t dismiss the prospect of working with Democrats, and praised their budget plan for being something Republicans should consider.
“People are concerned that you don’t want to spend more than the Democrats spend,” Biggs said. “It’s kind of weird that the Democrats now became some kind of a threshold on spending. I commend the Democrats because for the first time since I’ve been down here they’ve put out a budget that at least is complete enough to merit true consideration.”
Meanwhile, Rep. John Kavanagh, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, said his “first preference” is to continue working with the governor, though he also wouldn’t rule out negotiating with legislative Democrats.
“I would look at other options, be it overriding a veto or siding with the Democrats, if my preference is unattainable,” he said.
But Kavanagh said he is “not yet” convinced that getting a deal done with the governor is unattainable: “It will be hard work, but not unattainable.”
“We are still far closer to a deal with the governor than with the Democrats,” he added.
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So far, legislative leaders have heeded the governor’s request for a moratorium on bills.
On the day Brewer gave her warning, the Senate abruptly ended its work without voting on any bills.
And while both the House and the Senate resumed voting on bills, they only passed proposals that would still need the other chamber’s final approval.
They also intended to not officially transmit to Brewer’s office two bills that both bodies already approved.
“I am not sending any bills to her today,” Pierce said on April 18.“She asked us not to. So we’re going to try and help her out and work with her.”
The Senate leader said they can wait “a few days” to accommodate the governor’s wishes.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Andy Tobin said he wasn’t overly concerned about the governor’s moratorium on bills, saying that very little legislation still needs final approval — and most bills still waiting on votes have a financial component and will need to be resolved in the budget, anyway.
“I’m not going to overreact,” he said.
Tobin chalked up Brewer’s actions to “part of the negotiating process”
and indicated the House will refrain from sending bills to the governor for the time being.
Pierce also described the moratorium on sending bills to the governor as a “temporary thing.”
“I don’t see it as any big deal. She requested. We’re trying to work with her, and say, ‘OK, let’s work on the budget.’ That’s what we’re doing,” Pierce said.
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The threat of vetoes expectedly sucked some energy out of the Capitol, where lawmakers and lobbyists suddenly — and understandably — aren’t so eager anymore to get their bills to Brewer.
Senators, especially those who have pending measures, agree with Pierce’s decision to comply with the moratorium. And many appeared to be willing to let the development play out.
Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said discretion is the better part of valor.
“Since I have some very important bills, at least from my view, that are still in the pipeline, I guess I don’t want to send them up there and have them vetoed. I don’t want to be the guy that walks the plank,” he said.
Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said he won’t “poke her in the eye” by insisting on final passage of bills important to him.
The sentiment that lawmakers shouldn’t dare the governor appears nearly universally shared. One lobbyist told the ~Arizona Capitol Times~ that Brewer is a woman of her word, and there’s no point risking a veto.
Sen. John McComish, R-Phoenix, said the governor is trying to get lawmakers’ attention, and now that she’s gotten it, he hopes things go back to normal.
“Now that she has our attention, and she’s made her point about the importance of budget negotiations — [I hope] that she doesn’t continue that policy. That would be my hope,” McComish said.
It remains to be seen how long the House and the Senate will honor the moratorium.
Some Republicans have privately expressed disappointment at the moratorium, and others, like Biggs, suggested they keep sending her bills.
“It doesn’t have a logic for me,” he said. “‘I’m going to veto everything.’ Well, just think about that. Good policy that comes out of the Legislature that there’s no reason to veto — you’d really veto that?”
When pressed if he would, then, risk a veto, Biggs replied, “We were elected by voters all over the state to do the Legislature’s business.”
Already, the moratorium has put the brakes on proposals whose authors were hoping to get enacted sooner rather than later.
Among the pending measures in the Senate is legislation to bar from the ballot any candidate who owes more than $1,000 in fines, penalties or other fees stemming from election law violations.
The measure is widely regarded to target former Rep. Doug Quelland, who has failed to pay $31,000 in Clean Elections fines.
Quelland is once more running for the Legislature, but as an independent rather than a Republican.
If the measure is to actually affect Quelland, however, it must be signed into law soon: The deadline for candidates to submit nomination papers is May 30. And while the bill contains an emergency clause — which means it becomes law once signed by the governor — it needs to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
That review can take up to 60 days. Though the bill’s sponsor, Glendale Republican Sen. Linda Gray, said she’ll ask for an expedited review, the longer the bill sits in the Senate, the less likely it is that the law will be in place before the nomination filing deadline.
And that’s not the only potential problem.
A moratorium sets up an artificial bottleneck, and once it is lifted, lawmakers will suddenly find themselves rushing to pass bills even as pressure mounts to end the session once a budget is completed.
Ninth Floor: Pierce, Tobin went back on agreement Jeremy Duda [email protected] Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to not sign any new bills until she gets a budget came only after Senate President Steve Pierce and House Speaker Andy Tobin backtracked on agreements they made with the governor on a handful of spending items, according to a Brewer spokesman.
Matthew Benson said Pierce and Tobin had agreed to several of Brewer’s key spending proposals, including new funding for K-12 education, public safety and the Department of Economic Security. But the two chamber leaders informed her during an April 17 meeting that they were reverting to legislative Republicans’ earlier budget proposal that ignored many of Brewer’s spending priorities, Benson said.
In response, Brewer said she would veto any bill that reached her desk before an acceptable budget was passed, Benson said.
“The governor and legislative leaders weren’t far off at all at the end of last week, and that changed significantly as of the beginning of this week — and not due to anything that the governor did. … That was due to a change in position from legislative leadership,” Benson said. “I think that solidified in the governor’s mind the idea that they’ve got a lot of work to do on reaching a budget agreement. And after 100 plus days of the session, it’s time to focus on getting a spending plan for the state.”
Pierce, R-Prescott, denied changing his position on the budget. He said Brewer’s decision was simply meant to force the Legislature to get the budget done.
“I did not back out of anything. That’s wrong,” Pierce said.
Tobin spokesman Rey Torres would not comment on Benson’s statement, saying the speaker is not negotiating the budget in the media.
Some of Brewer’s key spending priorities in her proposed budget include $100 million for K-12 school building renewal projects and another $100 million for school equipment; $42 million to DES to offset federal funding cuts for Child Protective Services, elderly care and adoption services; $50 million for a 500-bed maximum security prison; and nearly $10 million to hire new correctional officers.
– Jim Small contributed to this report.