Gov. Janet Napolitano has rejected two bills dearly wanted by Republican lawmakers, opening a door for a special session this summer and triggering a political feud that will loom over the 2006 election season.
On Friday, the governor cleared her desk of the last 60 bills passed by the Legislature. She vetoed measures relating to private school choice and teaching students not fluent in English. She said the bills didn’t reflect her negotiations with top Republican lawmakers as part of an $8.2 billion budget package.
Republicans say Napolitano broke a handshake agreement that led to approval of the budget by most lawmakers from both parties.
Napolitano, a Democrat, did sign a plan to temporarily loosen the graduation requirement for Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards and a law that significantly reduces business property taxes over the next 10 years. But she vetoed 20 bills and four budget items Friday, adding to her historic record for bill rejections by an Arizona governor.
Two of those vetoes really stung Republicans.
Napolitano stopped a proposal to allow businesses to claim tax credits for donations to private school scholarship organizations.
Throughout the session, the governor had said she was opposed to Republican plans to divert tax dollars to private schools. But she eventually agreed to compromise on corporate tax credits in order to get Republican support to expand full-day kindergarten and to start a university medical school in Phoenix.
The compromise also was supposed to include an automatic end to the business tax credits after five years, Napolitano said.
"I have a strong belief about was intended and agreed to," Napolitano said. "They disagree. People disagree. But in the end, when the dust settles, we’re going to have to get together and put this thing back together. I think people of good will can do that."
But GOP lawmakers said Napolitano made up an excuse to break the deal after she was heavily criticized by other leading Democrats for accepting any school choice proposal.
"The only action of integrity that the governor could have made here was to veto the whole budget," said Senate President Ken Bennett, RPrescott. "But to pick and choose and sign only the things where she wanted, and to veto the things where she gave a little, and we got some of the things we wanted, it is inappropriate and a total lack of honor."
Napolitano also vetoed a bill crafted by Republicans to address a 15-year-old federal lawsuit related to English learners. The plan would have increased spending by $28.5 million next year, and would have required school districts to develop new programs for improving English proficiency and to report their actual costs to the state.
The governor said her budget deal required Republicans to reach a separate agreement with Democratic leaders on the English bill. Those leaders asked Napolitano for a veto, saying Republicans walked away after a week of talks and passed their own proposal instead.
GOP leaders denied the English issue was part of the budget deal. They said they couldn’t accept Democratic demands for future spending of up to $90 million.
A federal judge in Tucson had ordered the Legislature to "adequately address" the lawsuit before ending the regular session, or the state could face sanctions such as the loss of $400 million in highway funds.
Napolitano said she is willing to call a special session this summer on the English bill and corporate tax credits, once Republicans cool off and are willing to talk about the timing. But Republican leaders said they couldn’t make any promises about what will happen next.
"There’s going to be some skeptics within our caucus that are going to be delighted to say, ‘I told you so. The governor can’t be trusted,’ " said House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix.
The governor also vetoed three more bills passed by Republicans as part of a series of proposals to crack down on illegal immigrants. They included measures to deny instate tuition to high school graduates and to allow police officers and sheriff’s deputies to arrest illegal immigrants.
But Napolitano did sign a bill authored by Rep. Colette Rosati, R-Scottsdale, that bans the use of tax dollars for day-labor centers that aid illegal immigrants. The law is largely symbolic as the state’s two day-labor centers in Chandler and Phoenix are supported by private contributions.