PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer is turning up the heat on state lawmakers in her push to get a temporary tax hike to balance the budget for the next three — and maybe four — years.
“I am not going to stand by and allow our education system, whether it be K through 12 or universities, be decimated because of the problem that we’re facing,’’ she said.
Brewer noted that lawmakers trimmed $580 million in spending just two months ago to bring the current budget into balance in the face of just a $1.6 billion deficit. Those cuts, she said, caused “a lot of pain’’ for many people.
She acknowledged that won’t be the end.
“There’s still going to be some more cutting,’’ the governor said. “But if we don’t get the temporary tax increase on top of that, it’s going to be very severe cutting.’’
And Brewer said that, given the state’s financial outlook for the near future, if a tax hike is not enacted “we’ll never get it turned around for years.’’
The governor took her call for higher taxes to Phoenix Rotary 100, a 95-year-old club whose members include a number of politically connected and influential business owners and managers. And she told the audience several times that if they agree with her assessment they should contact friends, neighbors — and, by extension, their legislators.
She did acknowledge for the first time Friday that the extra $1 billion a year she wants in taxes might have to last as long as four years before the state’s finances are healthy enough again to live without it. Until now, Brewer has said the additional funds might be needed for up to three years.
Brewer’s speech came one day after House and Senate Republican leaders began trying to line up votes for a budget that includes $740 million in cuts, $360 million in fund sweeps, almost $1.3 billion in federal stimulus dollars — and no new taxes.
The governor pointed out that, even after weeks of preparation, the legislative plan still falls close to $500 million short of what is needed.
Not everyone in the audience was convinced higher taxes are necessary.
Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Don Goldwater said there are other options, such as checking those who apply for free care from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to see if they have other insurance that might pick up the bill. And he said there are other kinds of fraud that cost the state money.
And he punctuated that by suggesting to Brewer that if she pushes ahead with her plan “you’re going to lose your base,’’ meaning the people who she needs to win next year’s gubernatorial race.
Brewer responded that she’s not trying to be popular.
“I have got to have the courage, you all have got to have the courage, to do what’s right to turn it around,’’ she told her audience. And Brewer took a slap at Goldwater and others who think they can solve the financial mess without higher taxes.
“I don’t know if you’ve got all the information,’’
“I have serve in public office, Don, for 27 years,’’ she continued. “And until I arrived at the governor’s office, did I understand that the governor had, at her fingertips or his fingertips a lot more information than was ever provided to me in the Legislature.’’
One of Brewer’s biggest hurdles could be convincing Arizonans that any tax imposed would be temporary.
One member of the audience reminded the governor that when she was in the Legislature in the early 1980s, House Speaker Burton Barr, a Republican, worked with Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt for what was supposed to be a “temporary’’ sales tax increase. That additional penny never went away.
Brewer said if lawmakers enact the levy themselves they can craft the law so the tax automatically disappears after a set period of time. And she said if the plan is referred to the voters as a constitutional amendment — a more likely scenario — it also would have a set self-destruct date.
“I take very seriously that ... if I say I’m looking for a temporary tax increase, that’s exactly what I mean,’’ the governor said.