Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Still Waiting

When last we left the Arizona legislature, negotiations were in full bloom. The majority party wanted numerous tax cuts -- a measure supported by the Governor but one that would cause a shrinking pool of revenue to shrivel further -- and the Governor wanted a temporary sales tax hike sent to the ballot. However, too few Senate Republicans were willing to forgo their "no tax increase" pledge to give voters the option to vote it in or not. The Democrats were treated as superfluous since the goal stated by the majority leadership was that this would be a "Republican-only budget." In the end, the Republicans could not muster the votes to present the Governor with everything on her wish list.

What she got was the same lump of coal of a set of bills she had vetoed July 1. At that time she called them "fatally flawed" and "devastating" to education and more. Lately, her rhetoric has been more toned down as she attempts to get a budget she will approve.

So what's different this time (since it's not the budget)? In the past few days, the negotiating table grew with the addition of the leaders of the minority party. Minority leaders managed to get invites to this dance and presented ideas that they have been talking about for months via web sites and public forums statewide. Furthermore, the Governor is more actively participating in the talks. At this point, the parties know what each wants to bring the votes of their caucus members into the yes column.

But what about those budget bills that were finally transmitted to the Governor? She signed one last week (to ensure that federal stimulus funds going to the Department of Environmental Quality would not be lost) and did nothing with the rest. Had she continued to do nothing through Wednesday, August 26, they would have become law without her signature. However, both chambers ended the latest special session on Tuesday, August 25 -- giving her 10 more days to deal with the bills.

What this maneuver really did was acknowledge the possibility that the current bipartisan talks may produce a balanced budget that a majority of House and Senate members -- irregardless of political persuasion -- will support along with Governor. And then, perhaps, the rest of the state can stop waiting to exhale and know how much money will be expended to educate students, support seniors, pay state personnel, and more. Even when we have to do it all with less.

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