State lawmakers sent Gov. Jan Brewer the same spending package on Thursday she vetoed more than a month ago in hopes the move will produce a different result.
The move comes despite the fact that the Republicans who control the Senate never came up with the votes to give Brewer the one thing she insisted had to be part of the deal: giving voters a chance to decide if they’re willing to hike the state sales for three years. The governor said the only reason she was willing to accept a budget with about $630 million in new spending cuts was that voters would have the opportunity to mitigate their effects with new revenues.
Brewer press aide Paul Senseman said late Thursday afternoon she has made no decision on what to do.
“The governor continues to have meetings with legislators,” he said, in an effort to see if there still is a chance they will approve sending the tax hike to the ballot.
State Elections Director Jim Drake said the legal deadline for lawmakers to set a Dec. 8 election Brewer wants is Sept. 8. But for all intents and purposes, there now is no chance of an election that day.
Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said the company that manufactures the special ballot paper told her they needed to have an order placed no later than Friday. But legislators do not return to the Capitol until Tuesday.
Senseman said Brewer, who originally sought a Nov. 3 vote before the deadline for that passed, wants an election as early as possible: The sooner there is a vote, the sooner the proposed 1-cent surcharge on the state’s 5.6 percent sales tax can be collected. Each month of delay loses the state about $80 million.
Maricopa County’s paper problems could still be addressed if the election were pushed back one week. But Osborne said that may not be an option as some of the churches that serve as polling places are not available because of Christmas pageants.
House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, who met with Brewer earlier Thursday, said he received no assurances that she will sign the bills. Adams said, though, he believes the governor should let them become law.
One reason is timing: State Treasurer Dean Martin warned earlier this week that Arizona will run out of operating cash sometime in October, with or without a new state budget. That’s because the total of what the state has collected in taxes by certain dates during the fiscal year may not cover what has to be paid at that time.
Martin said banks are willing to give Arizona a line of credit — but only if the state has adopted a budget.
“This is the worst fiscal crisis the state has ever faced,” Adams said of his recommendation that Brewer sign the bills. “We are in a major cash flow crunch.”
The speaker said he promised Brewer that lawmakers will continue to try to find the votes for her sales tax referral if she signs the budget.
That, however, could require a leap of faith by Brewer — and not a lot of time to make that decision.
The Arizona Constitution gives the governor five days, not counting Sundays, to decide whether to sign or veto each of the bills or allow them to become law without her signature. If lawmakers fail to come up with the votes for the referral by the end of the day Wednesday, she will have to decide whether to sign the spending package and hope that the tax referral will happen eventually.
Even if Brewer approves the budget, though, she has some cards to play.
First, one of the bills now on her desk would permanently repeal the state’s property tax. Suspended in 2006 when Arizona had a surplus, it will automatically be included on the tax bills going out next month unless Brewer signs the repeal.
The governor had agreed to do that — but only if she also got that sales tax referral. Without it, Brewer may be unwilling to forgo the $250 million a year that levy would generate if reinstated.
Second, Republican legislative leaders want to act now to cut corporate income taxes by 30 percent and individual tax rates by 6.6 percent beginning in 2011. Proponents argue that move would help accelerate Arizona’s recovery from the recession.
While that was approved by the House, it came up short in the Senate though it technically remains alive through a procedural maneuver. It could pick up support if its approval is linked to that sales tax referral.
Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, refused to talk with reporters about the decision to send the budget bills to Brewer, saying only that talks with the governor continue.