Saturday, March 07, 2009

Brewer Lets Voters Know That They're #1...

....too bad for voters that wasn't her index finger pointed skyward...

I almost titled this post "Business as Usual," but I like the above line better. It's funnier...

When Governor Jan Brewer addressed a joint session of the lege on Wednesday, her speech discussed the fiscal crisis facing the state. In it, she assessed three main causes for the deficit -

1. Without naming names, she blamed the former governor Janet Napolitano for the deficit (emphasis mine) - "...we have inherited one of the largest budget deficits per capita of any state in the United States..." and criticized the use of short-term revenue enhancements to balance last year's budget.

2. The Voter Protection Act (aka Proposition 105), passed by the voters in 1998. She said that "permanent, inflexible spending and taxes" that are protected from legislative tampering by the provisions of the act paint "state government into a corner" during difficult times.

3. She blamed the state's tax structure for being too business-unfriendly.

Her solutions?

1. Enact "structural budget reforms" such as doubling the size of the state's "rainy day fund" and restrict its use. As part of the "structural budget reforms, she wants restrict "fund sweeps" from fee-based funds. Those are where users pay fees for government services. During the drive to balance the state's budget, many of the remaining balances in those accounts were "swept" up.

2. No new programs, and the Voter Protection Act should be relaxed to allow the lege to restrict or even end programs, taxes, and expenditures that the voters have approved.

3. She wants to "reform and modernize our state tax structure" to make it more business-friendly.

4. Raise taxes in an unspecified, but temporary, manner.

Ummm....where to start, where to start?

How about with some of the contradictions?

Let's see -

...When placing blame on Napolitano, she conveniently forgets to place any of the blame on the lege (you know, the group responsible under the state constitution for the budget) for its constant drive to cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy. It wasn't just spending that put the state into a structural deficit; it was permanently reducing revenue streams too. And let's not even get started on the almost-criminal over-reliance on the notoriously unstable revenue stream provided by the sales tax.

...She decries the voter-imposed restrictions and inflexibility in time of fiscal need on the legislature and executive that protect the programs that the voters approve of (like healthcare and education), yet wants to make the lege's ablility to expend money less flexible.

...Even though she was elected by the voters (as Secretary of State only, but that was still an election), her primary focus is on catering to big business. (More on that in a moment...)

...She *did* issue a call for a tax hike, but she left the specifics in the hands of the lege, an organization that has never met a tax that it liked...except for the most regressive tax of all, the sales tax. She was very specific in her call to override the will of the voters, but woefully unspecific in regard to her "plan" to bring in more revenue. Unspecific to the point of showing that she knows that it is all but certain that the lege won't even put the question to the voters.

Most, like Sen. Ron Gould (R-Hates Everything), have already said that they think it is a *very* bad idea. Of course, there don't seem to be any quotes anywhere from prominent AZ Republicans criticizing the idea of overriding the Voter Protection Act.

I predict that there will be special election with a sales tax increase proposal and a proposal to gut the Voter Protection Act on the ballot. The Reps will fight against the tax increase, but not cry too much if it passes (a sales tax is always the most acceptable to them), while fighting tooth and nail to crack the protections of the Voter Protection Act.

Of course, Brewer's repeated rhetorical caresses of that Republican touchstone, big business, was calculated, and for more than to garner support among the Rep caucus in the lege.

Big Business has been screaming for weeks about the fund sweeps, because some of those sweeps have interfered with business as usual. Some of those businesses are as "conflicted" as Brewer.

For instance, when the House Ways and Means Committee heard (and approved) a bill to repeal the state's equalization property tax on February 23, the owners of APS, Pinnacle West, had a representative there to argue in favor of the repeal.

Out of concern for their customers, of course - they didn't want to have to raise rates to pay for the tax. (audio available from the lege here)

Of course (again! :) ), that concern didn't stop Pinnacle West from criticizing the sweeping of a fund at the Arizona Corporation because the fund supported staff there that processed requests for rate hikes. The fund sweep made it more difficult (though far from impossible!) for APS to raise rates.

Note: This isn't meant to single out Pinnacle West; they're hardly only corp to dance this little two-step.

I'm sure that between the anti-voter and voter-mandated programs rhetoric on one side and the anti-tax, pro-business rhetoric on the other, Brewer and the legislative Republicans have made it clear to corporations that in Arizona the lights are on and the AZ government is open for business as usual.

Of course, that light is red, and the "business" involves screwing the average Arizonan, but hey -

Here, that *is* "business as usual."

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