Gov. Janet Napolitano urged lawmakers Monday not to cut state aid to education, health care, domestic violence programs and foreclosure assistance as they seek to deal with the state's record deficit.
Just days before she is set to quit, Napolitano used what is likely her final State of the State speech to boast of the accomplishments of the last six years even as she sought to keep them from being undone. She insisted that making spending cuts deeper than she already has proposed is both unnecessary and unwise.
But House Speaker Kirk Adams said the depth of the budget deficit, coupled with the fact that Napolitano is on her way out the door, make her comments irrelevant.
"She is the governor of the state of Arizona still, for a few days anyway," he said. "And out of respect for the office of governor it was important that she have the opportunity to give a farewell address. Is it relevant to the upcoming session? No."
Napolitano won't even be around to defend her proposals: She is flying to Washington today for confirmation hearings to become the new head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And if no problems develop, she could be confirmed by the full Senate - and quit as governor - by the middle of next week.
That will make Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer the governor. And while Brewer has sidestepped questions of how she plans to balance the budget, she is more likely willing to consider deeper spending cuts than the incumbent.
Napolitano, apparently recognizing how her speech would be received by the Republican-controlled Legislature, said ahead of time she saw this also as a chance to make her argument to voters directly.
She said the same economic slump that is reducing tax collections is also hurting Arizonans. That, the governor said, makes this the worst time to slash funding for needed services.
"The national recession has meant that we have more people out of work or making less money than they did before," she said in her prepared text. Enrollment in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program, is up by 70,000 in just the past year.
"It would be wrong to hurt our seniors, our youngest children and those who are ill or disabled in the name of balancing the budget," she said.
She made a particular plea not to cut classroom spending, telling lawmakers that "the people of Arizona will recognize such a cut for what it is: not a budget necessity, but a willful and unwise choice."
The governor also had an alternate approach in her plea specifically not to cut spending on higher education.
"Our universities and community colleges are economic engines," she said, giving students the skills they need to work "in the good jobs of the future."
"We need to show the world that, even during these hard times, Arizona is open for business," she said.
And Napolitano urged lawmakers not to repeal the authorization from last year to let the university system borrow $1 billion for new construction and renovation. Aside from accommodating future enrollment growth, she said it creates "desperately needed construction jobs."
After Napolitano's speech, Senate President Bob Burns laid out his vision for dealing with the estimated $1.6 billion deficit this fiscal year and the potential of $3 billion in red ink next year.
It starts later this week with officials from nine companies with a major presence in Arizona detailing how their firms are dealing with the recession, followed by eight representatives of cities and counties. The plan is to study what they are doing to see if the state can mimic that.
But Burns said that, as far as he is concerned, much of the gap between anticipated spending and revenues has to be made up by cutting expenses. Burns said he does not like solutions that simply defer the problem into the future.
Napolitano's proposals to date, by contrast, have been heavy in both borrowing and deferring paying the state's bills, both proposals that essentially keep spending at the same rate but rely on better economic times in the future.