When Gov. Jan Brewer delivered her first State of the State speech on Monday, Jan. 11, expectations were quite low—so some audience members thought she did a pretty good job, despite her tendency to screw up the timing on most of her good lines.
The folks who liked the speech were mostly Republicans who appreciated her shots at the Obama administration and the lefty loons who were running California into the ground. Given that Brewer began to win back some of her GOP base, the speech was a success.
The Democrats who got slapped around—such as Attorney General Terry Goddard—didn't feel as charitable toward Brewer, which is no surprise. Democratic lawmakers were grousing that Brewer wasn't offering anything new in the speech.
It's certainly true that Brewer made only a passing reference to her ongoing efforts to persuade the Legislature to pass a referendum that would ask voters to temporarily increase the sales tax by 1 cent per dollar. (By the way, the clock is ticking on getting that proposal together for the May ballot, so if it's gonna happen, it has to happen soon.)
Instead of focusing on that tax hike, our governor—who is already seeing plenty of opponents coming out the woodwork to run against her—promised to deliver a lot of future tax cuts, which has Democrats wondering why they should help her approve a plan that hits the poor and middle-class with a higher sales tax while wealthy Arizonans will be getting a break on their income and corporate taxes.
Brewer was blunt in her assessment of the problem facing Arizona: The state has to find a way to bridge a $5 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months. All of the easy solutions have been exhausted, so it's down to either cutting more spending or raising taxes.
Brewer unveiled a key piece of her agenda to balance the budget: taking away state-provided health insurance from hundreds of thousands of low-income Arizonans. Brewer says the state can't afford Healthy Arizona 2, a proposition approved by voters in 2000 that allowed anyone who earned up to the federal poverty level (which is now $22,050 for a family of four) to quality for coverage through AHCCCS.
Before Healthy Arizona 2 passed, people were only eligible for AHCCCS if they were below one-third of the federal poverty level.
As the economy has tanked and people have lost their jobs, the number of people on AHCCCS has climbed to more than 1.2 million. And because it's a voter-approved measure, lawmakers can't tinker with it, which makes it one of the untouchable expenses of state government.
Voters would have to approve any rollback of the program, which could be a tough sell at a time when people are wondering if they're going to be the next one on the unemployment line.
Come Friday, Brewer will release her budget proposal. From what we hear, it's gonna slash and burn through state government like Sherman through Georgia.
As we predicted, the Tucson City Council rejected the idea of a 2 percent tax on residential rental payments during a lengthy meeting last Tuesday, Jan. 5.
They also shot down the idea of laying off public-safety employees and told City Manager Mike Letcher to look into cutting outside-agency funding for groups like TREO (Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities), the Tucson Pima Arts Council and Access Tucson.
We're going to press too early to know if that 60 percent cut in outside-agency funding will stick at this week's meeting, but supporters of the various agencies were out in force to persuade council members to chop a little less.
Access Tucson boosters said that a cut that deep would kill the public-access TV station, while Pima County Interfaith Council supporters, including former Tucson Mayor George Miller, floated the unlikely suggestion that the city cut the pay of city workers by 10 percent to avoid the deep cuts to outside agencies, including JobPath, a program supported by the PCIC. (An earlier version of this column incorrectly said that the Pima County Interfaith Council administered JobPath.)
Letcher dropped a memo one day before this week's meeting updating the council on his plans to once again force city workers to take unpaid furlough days rather than cut their pay outright.
We think a permanent pay cut, as much as it would suck for city employees, is a smarter long-term solution to the city's problems, since it won't have to be renegotiated every year.
Letcher's latest proposal closes the budget gap in the current fiscal year to about $1 million. We also hear that Letcher is quietly letting council members know that they need to make decisions now—or he'll start taking whatever action he can on his own.
Apartment developer/neglector Humberto Lopez launched a recall campaign against Mayor Bob Walkup and council members Regina Romero and Karin Uhlich last week.
That won Lopez some coverage of his past business dealings in the Arizona Daily Star. Reporter Tim Steller noted that Lopez has often depended on taxpayers to support his projects and has a history of not paying his property taxes on time.
While Lopez insists this is not a case of sour grapes, we think he remains upset that the city declined to buy his run-down Hotel Arizona next to the Tucson Convention Center at an inflated price as part of the downtown-revitalization effort.
We're not so sure that Lopez has much support among members of the business community for the effort, but we'll find out more in the weeks to come.
This can't be encouraging news for Lopez and his allies: Ally Miller, coordinator of a political committee aimed at recalling Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, told the Explorer newspaper a few weeks back that she was calling off her effort, because she couldn't find enough support.
A couple of important political court cases are on the horizon: Later this month, U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver is expected to make a ruling regarding whether the state's Clean Elections program will provide additional public funds to participating candidates who are getting outspent by privately funded opponents.
Silver has already indicated that she believes providing matching funds violates the Constitution. If her ruling follows that line of thinking, a lot of Clean Elections candidates are going to find themselves at a considerable disadvantage to privately funded candidates with big wallets.
Case in point: Gov. Jan Brewer turned in enough $5 contributions to qualify for Clean Elections last week, but businessman Buz Mills let us know that he's putting more than $2 million of his own money into the governor's race. Sure, no one has heard of Mills yet, but once that money starts flowing, you can bet people will be talking about him.
There's still a chance that lawmakers will agree to give candidates more money for their campaigns, but that's not going to look good while they're decimating everything else in state government.
The other case to watch: The Tucson City Council's fight against the new state law requiring nonpartisan and ward-only elections is scheduled to get underway in Pima County Superior Court on Tuesday, Jan. 19. The case will be argued in front of Judge Michael Miller.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch.