Gov. Jan Brewer wants unilateral authority to reduce the spending authorized and mandated by the Legislature.
Brewer, in her list of priorities released Tuesday, wants a constitutional change to permit her to make changes in spending during times of fiscal emergency. John Arnold, her budget director, said that would be narrowly crafted to take care of issues when the Legislature is not in session.
But Brewer also wants lawmakers and voters to expand her constitutional power of line-item veto to actually give her authority to change the expenditure numbers lawmakers have just approved, with or without a fiscal emergency. Arnold said fewer than a dozen governors across the nation have such power.
Gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said the expanded power is necessary for the governor to get state spending under control. He said the existing line-item veto authority is insufficient for that because it forces a governor to decide between accepting the spending level approved by the Legislature or eliminating that item entirely.
But the idea of giving the governor more authority over the process is getting a mixed reaction, even from members of the governor's own Republican Party.
"At first blush, I don't think it's a good idea,'' said Sen. John McComish who, last year as House majority leader, was involved in working out the details of a spending plan with the governor. "It gives the governor too much unilateral authority. Those are the kind of things we should negotiate.''
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, who serves as the House majority whip, said she wants to see some more details.
"I'm always skeptical of giving the governor certain types of authority,'' Lesko said. "We'll see what exactly she's proposing.''
Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said he likes anything that reduces state spending.
But he was more overtly hostile to the shift in power from the Legislature to the governor. Antenori said the experience of negotiating the last spending plan proves that point.
"We were trading back and forth to come to an acceptable budget compromise,'' he recalled. "We would have lost leverage to compromise on that budget. She would have just come in after we made an agreement ... and lined that stuff out.''
Senseman said Brewer's existing line-item veto authority is insufficient to control spending.
"It ends up becoming an all or nothing proposition,'' he said. "It's really a false choice.''
Senseman said Brewer believes giving her the power to reduce what lawmakers have decided is an appropriate level of spending on any given program provides "some better protection for taxpayers.''
Rep. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, called it "an interesting concept.''
But Harper said he is worried exactly how it would work and how that would affect the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government. His idea is to enact the plan - but with a 10-year self-destruct provision.
Harper said that would give both lawmakers and voters a chance to evaluate how it worked. More to the point, if they like it, it would require a new approval from the Legislature and at the ballot box.
Even House Speaker Kirk Adams said he wants to do further research before giving "a big chunk of power to the governor.''
On the other side of the equation, Rep. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said he sees a benefit to taxpayers.
"It keeps the earmarks out of there,'' he said of the budget process, with legislators unable to bury their own priorities in the middle of an agency's budget.
"I think she's on the right track,'' said House Majority Leader Andy Tobin.
Senate President Russell Pearce said he doesn't believe giving Brewer the power of line-item reduction necessarily changes the balance of power.
"Language is everything,'' he said. Pearce said changing the constitution may help control spending.
On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader David Schapira said the proposal is a bad idea.
"It's a problem when the governor tries to essentially usurp unilateral control,'' he said. "The way that our constitutional system is set up in Arizona is that the Legislature produces a budget and the governor theoretically can either sign or veto it.''