State lawmakers want the Arizona Supreme Court to throw out a lawsuit by Gov. Jan Brewer seeking to force them to send her the budget they have approved.
Legal papers filed Friday by David Cantelme, the attorney hired by Republican legislative leaders, do not specifically address claims by the Republican governor that lawmakers are trying to “trick” her by keeping the budget out of her hands — and, presumably keeping her from vetoing it.
Instead, Cantelme is arguing that the Arizona Constitution requires only that all bills approved by the Legislature be presented to the governor for her signature or veto. But he said the question of exactly when to deliver the bills is discretionary.
More to the point, Cantelme said the fight is political and the courts should stay out of it.
Brewer, in her lawsuit, said she believes that Senate President Bob Burns and House Speaker Kirk Adams are purposely — and illegally — keeping the $8.2 billion spending plan they adopted more than two weeks ago from her. Brewer has made no secret of the fact she does not like some key elements.
She wants the high court to keep lawmakers from waiting until June 30, the last day of the fiscal year, putting her in the position of having to either sign the plan or face a government shutdown.
The court is set to consider the case Tuesday.
In the meantime, Brewer and the legislative leaders have continued to meet in an effort to come up with a compromise on a spending plan. But Burns said Friday he is not set to meet with the governor again until Monday.
On a separate front, lawmakers are pushing ahead with proposals designed to deal with — and potentially avoid — future budget problems.
One measure given preliminary Senate approval Friday would let lawmakers divert money that voters previously earmarked for special purposes to instead balance the budget in lean years.
SCR1009, if approved by voters in 2010, would partially override a 1988 constitutional amendment that prohibits lawmakers from altering any measure that has been approved at the ballot.
The measure is being pushed by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa. He said the state’s current budget crunch requires lawmakers to have the flexibility to take money from things they believe are low priorities and redirect them to more important items.
One of the largest of those sources is a 0.6 percent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2000, with the proceeds earmarked for teacher salaries, some university programs and other education funding. That could free up about $500 million.
In 2006, voters approved an 80-cent-a-pack increase in tobacco taxes to fund programs for early childhood development.
That generates about $150 million a year.
If the change is approved by voters, lawmakers could tap those and similar funds anytime the state ran a deficit of at least 1 percent for two consecutive quarters. The amount they take could not exceed the amount necessary to bring the books back into the black.
Potentially more significant, SCR1009 would forbid any tax hike unless and until all funds from prior voter-approved programs are first dried up.
Senators also gave preliminary approval to SCR1006, which would lower the total state spending limit to 6.4 percent of the total personal income of everyone in Arizona.
Voters approved a 7 percent limit in 1980.
But that has crept up to 7.4 percent as lawmakers took on additional responsibilities, notably the 1982 creation of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program. Before that, indigent health care was the responsibility of counties.
The current budget is about 6.1 percent of total personal income. But it was as high as 6.9 percent in 2006 when the state, flush with tax revenues, enacted new programs and expanded existing ones.
That measure, if approved at the 2010 ballot, would mandate that if tax collections exceed the spending limit, the excess would need to be returned in the form of rebates to Arizona residents who file individual income tax returns.