Arizona governor calls special legislative session

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2009 7:59 AM

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has called the Legislature into special session beginning Thursday to act on the state's budget crisis.

Brewer's proclamation was issued on Tuesday amid uncertainty about what lawmakers are willing to do in the session. The governor called for lawmakers to address spending cuts and to look at proposed special election ballot measures that would suspend constitutional protections for voter-approved spending and temporarily increase the state sales tax.

The special session would be the fourth this year on the state's budget troubles. The state faces a $1.6 billion midyear shortfall even after $452 million of cuts and other changes made during a November special session.

Brewer's proclamation said the sales tax increase would be to raise revenue for education, health and human services and public safety enhancements.

"The governor has stated her strong desire that further progress on deficit reduction be undertaken by the Arizona Legislature without delay," her office said in a separate statement.

Majority Republicans hope for a one-day special session but that would require cooperation from minority Democrats. They weren't at the table when Republicans decided on what legislation would be considered, and House and Senate Democratic leaders said Tuesday they had strong reservations about the Republicans' agenda.

House Republicans wanted to also consider future income tax cuts, but that topic wasn't included in Brewer's proclamation setting the special session's agenda. She omitted it because Senate leaders said there wasn't enough support in that chamber.

Brewer and legislators have discussed holding a March statewide special election for the proposed ballot measures. But holding it on March 9 to coincide with local elections may not be possible because election officials have said they need 90 days to prepare.

It's unclear whether the ballot proposals will even reach voters.

Without future tax cuts to provide balance, there might not be enough support in the House for the sales tax referendum, said House Majority Leader John McComish, R-Phoenix.

"I'm not optimistic about its chances," he said.

Many Republicans, trying to avoid raising taxes to balance the budget, want flexibility to be able to divert money that voter mandates now require go to early childhood programs being launched under a 2006 initiative.

House Minority Leader David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said Democrats don't want to second-guess voters' mandates and believe there are other ways to balance the budget. "Our members are going to be very reluctant to support that," he said.

Lujan said Democrats are leery of the sales tax proposal because they're afraid that Republicans would later try to use the resulting revenue to pay for tax cuts.

His Senate counterpart, Democrat Jorge Garcia of Tucson, said he was urging fellow Democrats that they withhold support for the sales tax proposal unless it's put to voters at a separate time than the voter-protection measure.

Garcia said that's because he's worried that a "vote no" campaign could sink both proposals if they're on the same ballot.