Governor enrages GOP with late vetoes
The Arizona Republic
May. 21, 2005
Each side accuses other of violating budget deal

Chip Scutari

Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed a corporate tuition tax-credit bill on Friday, torpedoing a plan that rival GOP leaders had brokered with her in order to reach a budget deal.

Republicans were so upset at her veto that they launched into the most personal attack on Napolitano in her three-year tenure. This veto, one of a string of rejections of their key bills, likely will become a war cry for the GOP in the 2006 gubernatorial race. It also could mean a special session of the Legislature to work out new agreements.

An angry Jim Weiers, the House speaker who worked with Napolitano to break the budget impasse, wrote, "There is only one way to put this: 'The governor lied to me.' "

He and other Republican legislative leaders believed that in exchange for allowing the governor to expand her all-day kindergarten program she would give the go-ahead for the tax credit that would allow companies to get tax relief for donating money for scholarships in private schools.

"The governor's legacy can only be dubbed 'Promises made, promises not kept; excuses made, excuses continued,' " Weiers said.

The vetoes were just a small part of Napolitano's actions on Friday, which included signing an $8.2 billion budget for fiscal 2005-06 that contains a provision to lower business property-tax rates from 25 percent of assessed value to 20 percent during the next decade and a bill that will ease AIMS graduation requirements by allowing good grades to count toward AIMS scores. In all, Napolitano signed or vetoed 60 bills on Friday.

Napolitano pinned the blame for the veto on Republicans, saying they broke the deal when they ignored Democrats during negotiations on a bill designed to help students who struggle to learn English. She vetoed that bill as well.

"Part of our agreement was that they would reach a bipartisan agreement on English-language instruction," Napolitano said. "They did not."

She also wanted the tuition tax-credit plan to end after five years; the Republicans ended up pushing through legislation that called only for a review at the end of the five years.

So were those efforts at compromise for naught? No, Napolitano says.

She wants to call the 90-member Legislature into a special session to fix the corporate tuition-tax credits and the English-language-learner bill. She didn't say when that could happen. Legislative leaders were less than enthusiastic to talk Friday about a special session.

The issue of English-language learners grew out of a lawsuit, Flores vs. Arizona, filed by a Nogales family in 1992. Legislators are under the gun from a federal court order to spend more money on the 175,000 English-language learners in Arizona.

Napolitano vetoed a Republican plan that would spend $42 million overall for English-language-learner programs and teacher training.

Critics of the Flores plan said that only $13.5 million was made available in the new budget and that schools would have to apply for grants from the state Department of Education to pay for the remainder of the English-learner programs.

"She vetoed the very bill that a federal court already told us needed to be in place before we finish this session," said Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott. "She has put herself in the position of being governor and judge."

Kent Parades Scribner, superintendent of the Isaac School District in west Phoenix, cheered Napolitano's veto. More than half of the students in the district are considered English-language learners.

"What the Legislature is proposing is irresponsible and will hurt children," Scribner said. "It forces us to redirect our existing dollars and play a shell game. Governor Napolitano is a voice for children who don't have a voice at the Capitol."

Napolitano also riled Republicans by vetoing their key immigration bills meant to deny certain public benefits to undocumented immigrants and make it easier for law enforcement to deport them. She called the package of bills an "undue impact on people who are lawfully in the state of Arizona."

"It's a problem that requires real action and not bills posed as real action," Napolitano said.

Some pundits say the mistrust from both sides could spill into the 2006 gubernatorial campaign.

"Next year's Republican nominee for governor will be talking about three issues: illegal immigration, school vouchers and how the governor cannot be trusted to make a deal and keep it," former Republican legislator Stan Barnes said. "It remains to be seen if this accusation rings true with voters."

Just two weeks ago, both sides were smiling after shaking hands on a "bipartisan budget." Napolitano had agreed to the school-choice measure in exchange for $17 million to expand all-day kindergarten, $7 million for first-year funding for a downtown Phoenix medical school and a host of other spending increases for children and families. The creation of corporate-tax credits for businesses that donate to private-school scholarship funds would have been capped at $5 million for the next five years.

Sidney Hay of the Alliance for School Choice said Napolitano's credibility is on the line.

"Are we confident? Can we trust her after she went back on her word?" Hay asked. "It's sad when you can't trust the leader of your state to keep her word."

But Amy Besing, who monitors legislation for the Scottsdale Parent Council, said she is relieved that the governor vetoed the tax credits. Her group opposed the tax credits because they would have benefited only a limited group of students and because private schools aren't subject to the same reporting requirements as public schools.

"They simply don't provide a fix for all of our schools, and all of our schools need help," Besing said.

When it comes to budget negotiations, it has been a rocky road for Napolitano and Republican leaders during her first three years in office.

In 2003, Napolitano made more than 35 line-item vetoes that sparked a lawsuit by Republican legislative leaders. The Arizona Supreme Court turned down the case, essentially upholding Napolitano's use of the line-item

In 2004, Democrats and moderate Republican rebels in the House went around their leaders to pass a budget that included many of Napolitano's

But Friday's blowup seems to signal a new low in the relationship between the Legislature and Napolitano. Despite the name-calling, Napolitano struck a conciliatory tone.

"In the end, when the dust settles, we're going to have to get back to the table and put this thing back together," Napolitano said. "I think people of goodwill can do that. I can't predict what they are going to use on the campaign or what they are going to say.

"We all live with each other."

Reporter Anne Ryman contributed to this article.