GOP: State's brighter budget picture no thanks to governor

Associated Press
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Associated Press

Republican leaders suggested Friday that the GOP-controlled Legislature would be at odds with Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano on spending and tax issues during the upcoming election-year session.

Senate President Ken Bennett told a business-oriented tax lobbying group that the state's fiscal picture is brightening.

But he said the state would still be in relatively poor shape if lawmakers had gone along with past Napolitano proposals on spending and borrowing.

"We can't afford that Christmas list," agreed House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix.

Weiers and Bennett, R-Prescott, also said they and fellow lawmakers should be more assertive about taking credit for the state's improving fiscal condition _ not allowing the public, by default, to credit Napolitano, who is expected to run for re-election in 2006.

"The reason that we are the way that we are is that the Legislature has held the line on what we've done," Weiers told an Arizona Tax Research Association legislative outlook conference.

Napolitano's relations with GOP lawmakers are expected to remain frosty, particularly because of her surprise vetoes of Republican-sponsored bills on several controversial school issues after the 2005 session ended. She and Republicans traded charges of broken commitments.

Bennett predicted the 2006 session will be the "most difficult" of his seven-year legislative career in trying to decipher how to divvy up an expected budget surplus of $300 million to $700 million.

Bennett said he'll support a combination of proposals to use any surplus to erase past budget-balancing accounting maneuvers, reduce taxes and meet some pressing spending priorities.

"We need to continue to be very cautious at the Legislature," he said.

Earlier this week, Napolitano said the state should use caution preparing the next budget, adding that she's considering steps to erase the accounting maneuvers used in the past.

Napolitano budget director Gary Yaquinto also voiced caution Friday while addressing the ATRA audience.

Yaquinto said Arizona's revenue during July to September, the first quarter of the fiscal year, grew by 22 percent over the same period a year earlier but the growth surge will slow and probably be in the range of 11 percent annually.