Leading state Republicans are accusing Gov. Janet Napolitano of breaking a $75 million promise as she liberally wielded her veto pen Tuesday before signing a $6.4 billion budget into law.
The veto of several parts of the budget restored funding in several areas, but eliminated a sexual abstinence education program, drawing the ire of several East Valley lawmakers.
Flanked by about 30 fellow Democrats and business allies, Napolitano announced she had accepted the plan adopted by the Legislature last week as a fiscally responsible path to ease the state's billion-dollar deficit problems without raising taxes.
"We have righted the ship that was headed toward a big iceberg when I came into office," Napolitano said. "We have put money where it needs to be put and bettered the bottom line."
The budget that starts July 1 provides most state agencies with the same money they received this year, or slightly more. But classroom education and health care to the poor will receive substantial, voter-mandated increases because of Arizona's growing population and additional enrollment in related programs.
Napolitano and Republican lawmakers disagreed strongly on the impact of 35 line-item vetoes that, in many cases, raised the amount of spending on specific programs. Napolitano said she made relatively minor changes, and then paid for them with a veto of a legislative plan to set aside $75 million toward a $350 million lawsuit judgment that the state must start paying in August 2004.
The vetoes raised total spending by about $31 million. But Napolitano said the overall effect would reduce the predicted gap between tax revenue and spending.
Republican leaders said Napolitano had pledged in March to accept the $75 million set aside as part of a deal to fix a deficit this fiscal year. Now, lawmakers will have to find that money next year, along with another $75 million, when the state still will be struggling to pay its bills, Republican lawmakers said.
A spokesman for Napolitano said she never promised to protect the lawsuit money while critical programs still faced cuts.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert said Republicans were researching legal challenges because so many of Napolitano's vetoes add more spending.
With the vetoes, Napolitano restructured several funding sources for the Department of Economic Security that will make an additional $11 million available to Child Protective Services. The governor said she intends to use the money to reduce the workload of case workers.
Napolitano did eliminate $800,000 that would have kept alive a 6-year-old program that teaches abstinence from sex to young teens. The veto also costs the state $1.2 million in federal matching funds. Napolitano said she opposes teaching abstinence in public schools.
"It's not so much should (government) do it, but if it does it, can it do a very good job?" Napolitano told Capitol Media Services. "And it doesn't. And when you look at other places in the budget where we needed to put money, that one seemed to be a luxury item that could be dealt with through the faith-based community, through parents and through the nonprofit community."
The veto outraged lawmakers who had fought to save the program.