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Brewer signs off on big budget cuts

By Howard Fischer

Phoenix, AZ – Governor Jan Brewer inked her approval late Monday to the latest
round of spending reductions. But this isn't the last of the cuts.

The measures signed by the governor reduce state aid to education
by about $144 million, with another $155 million taken from the
state Department of Economic Security. Brewer acknowledged that
the cuts -- especially the dollars being taken from public
schools -- are essentially equivalent to what she vetoed earlier
this year. At that time, the governor said $277 million taken
from state aid to education was unacceptable. But the school year
-- the time district officials have to pare their spending plans
-- is nearly half over. Brewer conceded the point.

"Well, you know, reality sets in. I think we all know that we
didn't get any increase revenue into the budget. So we are
currently at the point in the budget we're going to have to go in
and cut."

The governor pointed out that when she vetoed the earlier
spending cuts, she was counting on lawmakers coming back and
approving her plan to put a proposal before voters for a
temporary hike in the state sales tax. Brewer said that would
give Arizonans a chance to decide if they were willing to tax
themselves to prevent deep cuts to education and social service
programs. That, however, did not happen, leaving not only a big
hole in the current budget but an anticipated gap between
revenues and spending for the coming fiscal year. While Brewer
was willing to accept a cuts-only approach -- at least for the
time being -- that wasn't the case for Democrats. Rep. Lynne
Pancrazi told her colleagues that education will suffer.

"I hope that several of you will remember these cuts when we have
45 in a classroom and teachers aren't able to get to the students
that they need to reach."

Rep. Steve Farley said it's wrong for lawmakers to look only at
reducing spending. He called it -- quote -- very sad -- unquote -
- that the Republicans who control the Legislature believe the
budget can be balanced solely with cuts. But the suggestion of
higher taxes drew an angry reaction from Rep. Frank Antenori.

"You got a lot of guts standing up and telling the people of this
state, while their government continues to spend in largesse, to
pony up more money and pay for more spending. We need to reform
the policies of this state and bring us back up into the top 5
percent of the most business friendly states in the United States
to do business."

Antenori said only lower taxes on businesses will result in more
people working, creating the revenues for state programs. But
Rep. Daniel Patterson said Republicans are mistaken if they
believe that cutting money from education will help economic

"I know businesses, I know people that are either leaving Arizona
now or don't want to come here because of the problems with our
education system."

And Rep. Tom Chabin criticized Republican legislative leaders for
pursuing a cuts-only approach, one he said is designed to
guarantee that Democrats would oppose it.

"And with all due respect to the leadership here, instead of
seeking a consensus of 17 or 18 members within one caucus, it
might be better to look for 40 votes and a bipartisan solution."

But House Speaker Kirk Adams said the Democrats have essentially
made themselves irrelevant to the budget process by failing to
come forward with their own comprehensive plan for dealing with
the deficit.

"With all due respect to my Democratic colleagues, we have not
received that kind of detail on any proposal, whether it be cuts
or whether it be revenue."

Brewer said she wants lawmakers to take another bite out of the
$2 billion deficit in the next special session, this one before