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Gov. Brewer vetoes school funding to force increase

Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press<p>
Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer holds a news conference in front of the Arizona State Courts Building in Phoenix June 16.

Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press<p> Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer holds a news conference in front of the Arizona State Courts Building in Phoenix June 16.

PHOENIX (AP) - Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday kept government running by signing the main spending bill in a budget approved by the Legislature, but she used her line-item veto authority on the budget's spending for K-12 public schools as a way to compel lawmakers to increase that funding.

The Legislature adjourned its 2009 regular session around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, but Brewer just hours later called lawmakers back for a special session starting Monday to increase school funding above the approximately $4 billion provided in the budget.

Brewer also vetoed some of the budget package's separate bills and used line-item vetoes on dozens of spending items in the main spending bill.

Besides K-12 education funding, Brewer's line-item veto pen eliminated the Legislature's lump-sum spending cuts to environmental quality and health services departments and some university funding.

The governor's office said the K-12 school system has enough money to get by temporarily under the budget as revised.

"I am deeply disappointed to report to the people of Arizona that the Legislature has been unable to send me a responsible budget plan," Brewer said in a statement.

"The legislative budget ignores my consistently expressed goals and instead incorporates devastating cuts to education, public safety, and the state's most vital heath services for the frail," she said. "In particular, this package of bills is shortsighted in that it sets up an enormous revenue shortfall that will severely harm our state's future."

Lawmakers omitted a sales tax increase that Brewer demanded to help protect important services from damaging cuts.

Calls seeking comment on the vetoes weren't immediately returned Wednesday afternoon by Republican legislative leaders.

House Democratic leaders cast doubts about the prospects for success with Monday's special session, saying the outcome won't be any different in the special session if she leaves out the concerns of rank-and-file Democrats.

"What is the point of calling a special session if there's no agreement and nothing has changed - and nothing will probably change between now and Monday," said House Minority Leader David Lujan, a Democrat from Phoenix.

The lack of an approved budget before the new fiscal year began at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday had raised concerns about a possible state government shutdown. The Legislature did not finish approving the budget bills until shortly before 3 a.m.

Lawmakers then delayed sending the budget bills for several hours so they would go to Brewer with nearly all other legislation approved by lawmakers during their 2009 session, which they adjourned at approximately 7:30 a.m.

The bills approved Wednesday by the Legislature modify a legislative budget passed on June 4 but not sent to Brewer. Those 10 bills also were sent to Brewer on Wednesday.

Brewer had called the June 4 budget inadequate and said it cut spending too deeply. Republican lawmakers who drafted it said the state needed to rein in spending because budget troubles will continue for several years.

The Arizona Constitution sets a deadline for budget passage by midnight at the end of the fiscal year, which runs through June 30. The state lacks a mechanism to keep its government going without a budget, and lawmakers didn't resort to approving an emergency bill for temporary spending authorization.

However, other than to keep some state officials on pins and needles, the delay in legislative action past midnight had little immediate effect. It occurred in the dead of the night when most state government functions are shut down, and Brewer had already directed public safety agencies to maintain normal operations.

The recession has shredded many states' finances, with Arizona's tax collections hammered by rising unemployment, dampened consumer spending and the housing industry's collapse.

The budget package negotiated by Brewer and GOP legislative leaders to close a projected $3.2 billion shortfall included both a three-year, one-cent sales tax increase - which was to be submitted to voters in a Nov. 3 special election - and income tax changes sought by lawmakers.

As part of the package, additional revenue from the sales tax increase could have scaled back several budget-balancing steps, including reductions in spending cuts for education and new borrowing by the state.

But both tax measures were omitted by lawmakers when the House and Senate considered the other parts of the negotiated package. There weren't enough votes for passage, said House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

Besides the sales tax increase, other budget-balancing steps in the negotiated package included $630 million in spending cuts, $262 million of transfers from special-purpose funds, use of $1.1 billion of federal stimulus money and $730 million from refinancing prisons and other state buildings.

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