Arizona’s next governor said she’s prepared to do what she believes the incumbent has not done: say “no.”
Jan Brewer said one reason Arizona is in its current financial mess is that the state kept expanding the services provided even as tax collections could not keep pace.
“That is the result of the governor and the Legislature not being realistic,” she said. “Irresponsibility and mismanagement has got us into this problem,” with policy makers apparently unwilling or unable to tell constituents that the state just can’t afford what they want.
Brewer is set to become governor Wednesday afternoon, assuming incumbent Janet Napolitano is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the head of the Department of Homeland Security. Brewer has promised to sketch out her vision for the state in an inaugural speech.
But in an interview with Capitol Media Services, the governor-in-waiting provided a glimpse of her principles.
“I’m a fiscal conservative,” she said.
“I don’t believe government should be huge,” she said. “And I don’t believe that government should do things for us that we can do ourselves.”
Brewer takes office with $1.6 billion in the red in this year and projections of a $3 billion deficit next year out of a $9.9 billion budget. Yet various groups are lining up to keep their programs alive.
Brewer said they’re not being realistic.
“I think the people of the state of Arizona, the people of the business community, the people in general, including some legislators, are in total denial of what this problem is and just how big it is,” Brewer said. She said someone needs to tell voters that cuts are going to have to be made, even to popular programs.
“We would be in denial if we sat here and said we’re going to solve this without making cuts in education,” she said. State aid to schools currently consumes about $4.2 billion.
That is in sharp contrast to Napolitano whose budget proposes adding more than $200 million.
The difference, Brewer said, is that she has a more limited image of what government should be doing than the woman she will replace.
Brewer said government has “certain responsibilities” to provide services that are generally not left to individuals. That includes educating children, building and maintaining roads and public safety.
And it does include health care “in some instances.”
That’s one area in which contrast between Brewer and Napolitano shows up in high relief.
As a state legislator in 1993, Brewer complained about the growth of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program. At that time the program had about 470,000 people enrolled, one in nine residents.
“It just keeps eating at us like a cancer, almost,” she said at the time. “It will never be satisfied.”
AHCCCS enrollment now exceeds more than 1.1 million, close to one out of every six residents.
At least part of the reason for that, though, is voters expanded eligibility, providing free care to anyone below the federal poverty level. That comes out to about $21,200 a year for a family of four.
Brewer declined to say whether she believes now AHCCCS had grown too big, calling that “a loaded question.”
But Brewer said she opposes Napolitano’s efforts to expand a related program known as KidsCare which provides nearly free care to the children of parents who make up to twice the poverty level.
Napolitano sought not only to push that to three times the poverty level but also backed proposals to have the government provide coverage for all children, as well as some form of universal health care.
“The bottom line is that we cannot provide all kinds of health care to all the people of the state of Arizona,” Brewer said. “We cannot afford it.”
Brewer said she’s not saying Arizona must do everything on a pay-as-you-go basis.
As a legislator, for example, she backed borrowing for construction of the new west campus of Arizona State University. “That was good for the state,” said Brewer, who represented the Glendale area.
But Brewer said she’s not willing to do short- or long-term borrowing – concepts in Napolitano’s budget proposals – solely to keep programs alive.
“If you’re thinking that we’re going to borrow ourselves out of this crisis that we’re in, that isn’t going to happen,” she said. “It’s borrowing that got us into the crisis that we’re in.”
Brewer said she’s not absolutely wed to her limited register of what government should do.
“After good policy and good debate, then I think we can add things to that list, if it’s necessary – and we can afford it,” she said.