August 18, 2004
Several state legislators want to clamp down on the ability of the governor to spend cash from a $1 million fund that is supposed to be earmarked for a health care crisis.
During a hearing Tuesday of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, Sen. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, said that Gov. Janet Napolitano was able to take $430,000 from the fund because the current law is "kind of vague." He wants stricter language about what constitutes a "crisis" — the legal prerequisite for using the money.
Rep. Russell Pearce, RMesa, said the language in the statute apparently leaves too much to the wishes of the governor. He said that reduces the account to little more than a "slush fund."
But Tim Nelson, Napolitano’s chief counsel, suggested that the governor might veto any such proposal. He called it unnecessary.
"It is in the state’s best interest for the executive to have access to a small amount of money," Nelson said. "There are a lot of things that come up and need instantaneous response."
It’s not just Republican lawmakers criticizing the Democratic governor.
Even Sen. Robert Cannell, D-Yuma, said he believes that Napolitano has stretched the definition of crisis beyond its breaking point. Cannell said he would support new restrictions.
Lawmakers were particularly upset that Napolitano took $200,000 from the fund to persuade small companies to enroll their employees in Health Care Group. That is an extension of the state’s indigent care program in which employers can, for a fee, provide health insurance for workers at a lower cost than private insurers.
Nelson told lawmakers that one in five Arizonans are without insurance.
"If they’re sick and uninsured, they’re in a crisis situation," Nelson said.
"Being without insurance is not a crisis," Pearce shot back.
Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said some people make a conscious choice not to get health coverage.
"They’d rather buy a new car," he said.
Napolitano took an additional $230,000 to educate low-income seniors about changes in Medicare laws that provide prescription drug benefits. At the same time, she will promote her own Copper Rx drug discount program for seniors.
Lawmakers noted that Napolitano had promised them not one single state tax dollar would be used to publicize her program, set up without legislative approval.
Nelson said Napolitano is not the only governor to take cash from the fund.
He said Republican Jane Hull tapped the account in 2000 for things like detoxification programs and to pay for kidney dialysis for patients in rural Arizona. Nelson said Hull even took $50,000 to help subsidize Camp Tatayee, run by the Lions Clubs, which provides services for physically and mentally disabled patients.
Anderson said that is exactly why legislators need to change the law rather than simply pick on Napolitano for what she has done.