In her 28 years of public service, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer "has never supported a tax increase," according to Tim Bee, her Southern Arizona representative.
She is now. The Republican governor is advocating for the May 18 passage of a three-year, 1 percent sales tax increase because it is "absolutely vital to the future of our state," Bee told a Marana Chamber of Commerce lunch gathering last Thursday.
"Why a penny more in sales tax during this downturn?" Bee asked. "That's the last thing the governor wants to do, to run for governor after an increase in taxes."
But, he said, "she wants to run as the governor that told the truth, and tried to fix the problem."
Bee detailed the litany of revenue declines and budget conflicts plaguing Arizona. Revenues, topping $10 billion a year just over two years ago, are now expected to be $6.3 billion. In the last 18 months, the Legislature has borrowed money or used one-time funding sources "to the tune of almost $7 billion," Bee said. It has sold and leased back state assets. "They have virtually mortgaged everything the state owns. I'll be 60 when we pay these things off, all to pay this year's spending off." Bee is 40.
Arizona has seen 20 years of ongoing tax reduction, and Bee was a part of that reduction while he served in the Legislature. "I supported the tax cuts," Bee said. "That's part of what brought us to where we are today."
The revenue decline is coupled with growth in Arizona's K-12 system by 150,000 students since 2004, the addition of 20,000 university students, and 11,000 more prisoners. The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCS, has grown by 475,000 people, 200,000 in the last year alone. Meanwhile, Arizona voters have protected a number of budget areas from any reductions.
"To get out of this on just cuts alone, it's a bleak picture," and "not a practical solution," Bee said. Brewer has made $2.2 billion in spending reductions, "the biggest cuts ever in the history of Arizona. They were not easy decisions. She had to choose."
The Legislature's new budget has a contingency spending plan within it. "If the tax fails, here's what's going to occur," Bee said. Required cuts exceed $548 million, from K-12, colleges and universities, and $867.5 million overall. Current K-12 cuts are about 10 percent. "It would be more than 20 percent if the sales tax goes down," Bee said.
"We would probably have to release about 6,000 felons if this doesn't pass," Bee said, with at least two prisons closing and more than 1,000 corrections jobs eliminated.
"Small revenue increases with massive cuts" in spending are "a balanced solution to the problem," Bee said.
Polling on the May 18 sales tax question "is still strong," Bee said, with one poll showing a 59-percent approval rating. The supportive Yes on 100 political action committee is raising money for a campaign, and it has a Web site. "Voter turnout could be the killer on it if we can't get people to the polls to vote. Our biggest challenge is probably educating people."
Bee told the chamber audience he is "your voice to the governor, as well as I am the governor's voice to you."
The Republican, who ran for the Congressional District 8 seat in 2008, bowing to Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, said Brewer "has proven to me to be a tremendous leader She ascended at what was probably one of the worst fiscal crises in the history of our state. She's made decisions most people would shy away from."