January 10, 2005
Gov. Janet Napolitano will strike a conciliatory tone today when she delivers her third State of the State address on the opening day of the 2005 legislative session.
She will emphasize how Arizona has emerged from the biggest fiscal crisis in state history without a tax increase, with tax revenue now skyrocketing again.
She will suggest the state can afford to continue increasing funding for education while reducing business personal property taxes, which rank among the highest in the nation.
She will ask for emergency powers to deal with water shortages, in case this winter’s rains are only a temporary respite from a long-term drought.
And she will ask for some money to help Arizona State University and the University of Arizona open the state’s second medical school by 2006.
Napolitano knows it will be harder to repeat her earlier successes, as she faces a Legislature more conservative than in her first two years. But it won’t be impossible, given Napolitano’s experience in touting issues that resonate with the public, and her ability to avoid losing confrontations.
So, the governor is narrowing her list of priorities for today’s speech to lawmakers, and she will ask Republicans to listen with open minds.
In a general discussion of her speech two weeks ago, Napolitano told the Tribune: "The people of Arizona like the Legislature and the governor best when they get their work done with the minimum of partisan rancor."
Napolitano moved deftly through her first two years as a Democrat in a state where the Republican Party holds the edge in voter registration and legislative power. She has worked the legislative process effectively, and strong public approval allowed her to get over stumbles such as the behind-the-scenes strongarming to name Piestewa Peak and her early handling of the Valley’s gasoline shortage in August 2003.
Quickly bouncing back from surgery in mid-November to remove an ovary, Napolitano appears ready to tangle with lawmakers again after they take their oaths of office at noon today.
Water planning will take a prominent role in Napolitano’s 2005 agenda. After touring the state to hear public comments, Napolitano likely will offer a modified version of the plan crafted by her drought task force. The governor will ask for new water conservation measures in urban areas and for better groundwater management in rural parts of the state.
Napolitano said the Legislature should follow the vision of lawmakers in the early 1980s when they worked with then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt to create groundwater management areas around Phoenix and Tucson.
"We need to put ourselves in that place mentally," Napolitano said. "We need to be thinking 20 years ahead, when the population of Arizona is approaching 8 to 9 million, when we may have 16 or 17 years of drought. When there may have been some shortages declared on the Colorado River in terms of allotments to the states. We need to be thinking about that scenario and what we will need to have in place to deal with that."
The governor can comfortably promote water issues because they are traditionally viewed as nonpartisan. Republican leaders already agree with Napolitano that no one should think the drought is over just because Arizona currently is having a wet winter.
"It’s an issue that should be right on the top of the radar screen for everybody," said incoming House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix. "The common enemy will be the Californias and the Nevadas as we come back in and fight for the things we rightly believe is ours to start with."
Napolitano also can find common ground with Republicans by opening a door to some type of tax cut. Her Citizen Finance Review Commission has identified reducing or eliminating the business personal property tax as a priority, and several lawmakers said they expect to hear a proposal in her speech.
Still, Napolitano will risk alienating traditional allies, as Democrats have argued Republican tax cuts from the mid-1990s left most areas of state government underfunded today.
"Studies show that the business tax burden generally, not just property taxes, in this state has fallen 46 percent since 1994," said Rep. Phil Lopes, D-Tucson, the incoming House Democratic floor leader.
Napolitano isn’t expected to spend much time on her proposed budget today, as she is scheduled to unveil a complete package later in the week. But she told the Tribune she will ask lawmakers for some startup funds to launch a new medical school in downtown Phoenix.
What: Opening day of the 2005 legislative session, with Gov. Janet Napolitano delivering her State of the State address at 1 p.m.
Where: State Capitol, 17th Avenue and West Jefferson Street, Phoenix
On television: Cox Communications will broadcast opening day events on cable Channel 7. KAET-TV (Channel 8) will rebroadcast the governor’s speech at 7 p.m. on "Horizon."