English-instruction dispute may doom entire state budget
PHOENIX - Gov. Janet Napolitano said Friday she might veto the state's entire $8.2 billion budget over a dispute with the Republican-controlled Legislature on funding to teach English.
A veto would force the Legislature, which adjourned about 1:15 Friday morning after 123 days, to return in a special session.
Napolitano said the budget deal negotiated with the GOP leadership a week earlier included an "understanding" that Republicans "would sit down and negotiate a Flores resolution with the Democrats."
That refers to a 14-year-old lawsuit in which a federal judge ruled Arizona was not meeting its legal obligation to provide adequate funding to teach English to students who come to school speaking other languages.
"They did not do that," the Democratic governor said.
Napolitano, talking to reporters seven hours after the Legislature adjourned for the year, also said she may veto another last-minute bill, this one to expand Proposition 200 and require proof of legal residency for a longer list of public services.
She said her big disappointment was not so much with what is in House Bill 2030. It denies illegal entrants adult education classes, subsidized child care and lower in-state tuition at state universities and community colleges.
Instead, she is upset with what is missing: sanctions against employers who hire undocumented workers.
"The Legislature chose not to address the demand side on illegal immigration, which is the demand for illegal-immigrant labor," Napolitano said. "That to me is a disappointment and reveals that the whole package was not really thought through in terms of what we need for immigration and illegal immigration in Arizona."
Napolitano also said she is "inclined" to sign last-minute legislation to give high schoolers bonus points for their A's, B's and C's in required courses that could be used to supplement their scores on the reading, writing and math sections of the AIMS test. Beginning next year, seniors who do not pass the test, known as Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, cannot graduate.
The English language measure approved early Friday morning includes $28 million for the approximately 175,000 children in Arizona public schools classified as "English language learners." That is an amount close to the first-year funding sought by the Democrats.
But House Bill 2718, enacted by Republicans after they broke off talks with legislative Democrats, does not provide for future increases, instead requiring each affected school district to justify what it needs.
Napolitano said that broke the promise to negotiate.
"So I now have to go back and think my way of what's the best thing for Arizona under those circumstances," she said. She said that means reviewing the whole budget package, which is on her desk, "in light of the fact that the Legislature did not negotiate a compromise on Flores."
But Senate President Ken Bennett, a Republican, said the Legislature made "a very good-faith effort" to comply with the court order and deal with the wishes of the Democrats.
He also pointed out the legislation sets up a special committee to determine the best and most cost-effective English immersion programs. Napolitano will get to name four members of that panel, with four more from legislative leadership and the last one being state schools superintendent Tom Horne.