by Jim Nintzel
It appears that Gov. Jan Brewer has finally lost her patience with the slow movement of the state budget and her proposed Medicaid expansion, which passed the Senate in mid-May but had stalled in the House of Representatives as House Speaker Andy Tobin attempted to work out some kind of alternative plan, such as sending the expansion of Medicaid to the ballot.
Most of the Republican caucus opposes the Medicaid expansion, seeing it as an endorsement of the federal Affordable Care Act. But a handful of GOP lawmakers have been prepared to join Democrats to pass the expansion, which would bring billions of federal dollars to the state over the next three years and insure anyone below 133 percent of the federal poverty line. (More details here.)
The Medicaid expansion had been controversial since Brewer first called for it in her State of the State address in January, but Brewer assembled a coalition that included nearly every chamber of commerce in the state along with the healthcare industry. She faced opposition from GOP grassroots activists.
Yesterday, Brewer called a special session to start at 5 p.m. The notice was so short that many lawmakers were caught off guard. Twitter and Facebook lit up as rumors swirled that House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Andy Biggs would both be deposed in order to get the budget and the Medicaid expansion passed, but this morning, state Sen. Steve Farley tells The Range that both of them are going along with the plan to get the legislation wrapped, albeit unhappily.
Farley says that Brewer was fed up with the delays and the final straw came when the House adjourned yesterday until Thursday.
"I think she just had enough," Farley tells The Range.
The rules of a special session allow the legislation be introduced and pushed through the process much more quickly. Both chambers are scheduled to begin a Committee of the Whole meeting at 11 a.m. today; Farley anticipates that the final vote on the budget and Medicaid package will come shortly after midnight tonight and the special session will adjourn, but he doesn't know what's going to happen with the ongoing regular session after that. Lawmakers may try to finish off some big lingering issues, like overhauling some election laws related to early voting and revamping the state's sales-tax system, or they may just pack it in.
Here's last night's statement from Tobin and Biggs on the special session:
This evening, Governor Brewer summoned legislators to convene a special session to address the FY14 budget and Medicaid expansion. The special session was called without any consultation with Senate or House leadership, and was designed to commence at the precise moment it was conveyed. We are disappointed and stunned that the Governor and her staff would resort to such an unnecessary, impulsive and unprecedented tactic.
Since the beginning of the session, Senate and House leadership have made the budgetary process a top priority. Additionally, the debate regarding the full implementation of Obamacare in Arizona was already fully under way. In fact, these two specific items have not only consistently been a top legislative focus, but the other essential bills of the legislature have also been moving through our respective chambers. Instead of allowing the process to proceed in an orderly manner, the Governor made the impetuous decision to intercede and collude with the democrat minority in order to force an expedited vote on her sole legislative priority of Obamacare.
We are frustrated and bewildered by her overt hostility and disregard for the budgetary process which was already well under way. The blatant disrespect and reckless practices exhibited by this Executive are less than what was expected of her and more than should be tolerated.