What's been billed by the governor as an "unprecedented community discussion on Arizona's budget crisis" Thursday includes comments from only those chosen by the leaders of a major state economic development group.
There are no Democratic lawmakers, though the Republican governor and the top GOP legislative leaders are participating. Barry Broome, president of the greater Phoenix Economic Council, said he saw no reason to invite the Democrats.
Today's event comes a day after Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said he wants more details from Democrats on how they believe the $3 billion budget crisis can be solved.
Burns said Wednesday he would prefer to pass a package with just Republican votes if Democrats refuse to go along. But Burns said if that fails he is willing to cobble together a bipartisan coalition, a move he said would require the GOP majority to accept some of the budget solutions the Democrats want.
But Broome said the event is not to try to come up with ways to resolve the budget deficit but instead to "educate" people about how the state got into the situation and how the problem could last into 2013, if not beyond.
Paul Senseman, press aide to Gov. Jan Brewer, would not comment about the inclusion of some - and the exclusion of others - in the event in which his boss is the featured speaker. Instead, he said Brewer is "very excited to accept the invitation" to present to that audience the same plan she outlined for lawmakers last month to "put Arizona's economy back on track."
Broome said his organization agrees with Brewer that the $1.6 billion deficit this year that lawmakers plugged in January and the anticipated $3 billion in red ink for the coming year is not a short-term problem.
"I don't think the people of Arizona understand that there is a massive structural deficit," he said. Broome said prior gaps between revenues and expenses were solved with "accounting procedures and sidebar trimming" rather than either permanently decreasing spending or boosting revenues.
"We want to educate them on the size of this problem and the scope of this problem," Broome said of Thursday's event. "The invitation to come and talk about it was extended to the three top leaders at the state."
Broome said there was no intentional slight of the Democrats who hold 12 of the 30 seats in the Senate and 25 of 60 House slots. He said if Democrat Janet Napolitano were still governor, he would have invited her.
It is not a total snub: GPEC did invite Democratic leaders to attend - but only to sit in the audience and listen.
House Minority Leader David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said Democrats have a different view of how the state got into the current financial mess. And he said they definitely have different ideas of how to deal with it than either Brewer, who is pushing a temporary tax hike as part of any plan, or the GOP legislative leaders who want to rely much more on spending cuts.
But Broome said GPEC's goal in organizing the summit is not to be a catalyst for an actual solution for the deficit.
"We're not lobbyists," he said.
GPEC, however, does seek to influence legislation and the budget. Broome himself has lobbied lawmakers to alter the state's tax structure to make it more attractive for business, an issue that is part of the debate at the Capitol about how and whether to increase or decrease state revenues.
Forum participants are not all politicians. Those invited to give their views include Broome and Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill, who is chairman of the GPEC board.
Others include Arizona State University President Michael Crow, economist Elliott Pollack, Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn, Yuma Mayor Larry Nelson and Mesa Unified School District Superintendent Debra Duvall.
Jorge Garcia, Lujan's Senate counterpart, was philosophical about being excluded.
"If they're the host, how can I be rude and say, 'I want to be there, I want to have my equal time," he said.