Jan Brewer, Arizona's possible new governor, said Friday she is open to raising taxes as a way of balancing the state budget.
Brewer is the Republican secretary of state in line to be governor if Gov. Janet Napolitano becomes secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security when Barack Obama becomes president.
Brewer could inherit a deficit she said she believes is due to years of the state increasing its spending faster than inflation and faster than tax collections were growing.
And she suggested much of the blame is due to Napolitano, though, she did not mention the incumbent by name.
"We have grown Arizona's government well over 60 percent in six years," Brewer said, the period of time the Democrat has been governor.
And Brewer said the rate of spending increases has not significantly decreased, even as tax collections began to shrink. Instead, she said, the budgets were balanced with "accounting tricks and debt rather than true fiscal reform."
The budgets pushed by Napolitano - and adopted by lawmakers - the past two years have been balanced by borrowing for school construction rather than paying cash. And the budgets also have been "balanced" through various accounting techniques, like putting off payments due to schools until the following fiscal year.
"When you have followed that course you are destined to find that what you are doing is simply not sustainable," Brewer said.
Napolitano press aide Shilo Mitchell brushed aside Brewer's comments about the state's spending and the methods used to balance the books. "We respectfully don't agree," she said.
Arizona faces a $1.2 billion gap between anticipated revenue and expenses for the current budget year. And preliminary estimates put the deficit for next fiscal year in the $2 billion range.
Brewer acknowledged the recession has been the cause of at least some of the state's fiscal woes.
"We're all very much aware that when the economy gets bad, our (social) programs have more people needing them," she said. "It's a perfect storm, a storm that I believe most of those in this room have never experienced."
Despite her criticism of borrowing, Brewer said she has no answer yet for how she intends to balance the budget. And that, she said, means everything has to be on the table.
"Raising taxes, of course, is an option," she said. "I don't know what that is going to take."
That statement surprised Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, who listened to the news conference.
He said the only way the Republican-controlled Legislature might consider increasing any taxes is if it boosts sales taxes while also cutting income taxes. Harper said that would reduce the burden on business and potentially create more jobs.
Brewer's statement about the possibility of taxes puts her in sharp contrast to Napolitano who, even before being nominated to head Homeland Security, repeatedly said she does not consider that an option.
Part of the issue is simply a bow to reality: The Arizona Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for any measure that increases state revenue. The only other possibility is to take the question directly to voters.
Brewer said one reason for her willingness to consider all options - including taxes - while Napolitano has not could be because the incumbent has more details about the budget than she does.
"I'm kind of the new kid on the block," Brewer said. She added she wants her transition team to go through the state's finances before she comes up with a specific plan.
"I'm not going to stand up here today and tell you what I'm going to do," she said. She noted that she doesn't get to decide the issue unilaterally but has to work with the Legislature.
Brewer stressed, though, she was not suggesting higher taxes are the best way to balance the budget.
"I certainly don't have a record of being a taxer," said Brewer, who served as a state legislator for 14 years after six years as a Maricopa County supervisor.