by Jim Nintzel
When Gov. Jan Brewer delivered her first State of the State speech yesterday, expectations were pretty low—so there were audience members who thought she did a pretty good job, despite her tendency to screw up the timing on most of her good lines.
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 much of anything new in the speech.
It’s certainly true that Brewer gave 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 one cent per dollar. (And by the way, the clock is ticking on getting that proposal together for a May ballot, so if it’s gonna happen, it has to happen soon.)
Instead of focusing on that tax hike, our appointed governor—who is already seeing plenty of opponents coming out the woodwork to run against her this year—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 at the same time that 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 spending or raising taxes.
Brewer unveiled a key piece of her agenda to balance the budget: Take away state-provided health insurance from hundreds of thousands of low-income Arizonans. Brewer says the state can’t afford Healthy Arizona, a proposition approved by voters in 2000 that allowed anyone who earned up the federal poverty level (which is now $22,050 for a family of four) to quality for coverage through AHCCCS.
Before Healthy Arizona 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 when 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.