Napolitano, GOP leaders resume talks
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 11, 2005

1st meeting in 3 months

Robbie Sherwood Gov. Janet Napolitano and the top Republican leaders from the House and Senate took the first step toward patching up a seriously damaged relationship Wednesday and possibly ending a bitter stalemate over money for English-language learners and a corporate tuition tax credit for private schools.

The power trio sat down for the first time since the legislative session ended three months ago in a hail of controversial vetoes and crisscrossing accusations of dishonesty.

After the 40-minute meeting in Napolitano's office, she emerged with House Speaker Jim Weiers and Senate President Ken Bennett and said, essentially: Good meeting, let's have another.

"We talked about the differences between us, the misunderstandings we had, generally, and about things we might be able to do to avoid that in the future," Napolitano said. "We didn't resolve our differences, but we did resolve to get together again next week."

Weiers, R-Phoenix, who has openly accused Napolitano of lying when she went back on a reported deal to accept the Legislature's budget as is, was silent as he stood next to Napolitano during the impromptu debriefing with reporters.

Bennett, R-Prescott, said, "We're getting together next week to work on it some more."

There is much riding on that still-unscheduled meeting. With deadlines passed and progress stalled on court-ordered spending increases for English-learner instruction, the public-interest attorney who sued the state went back to court last week to ask a judge to hold up Arizona's federal highway funds until the Legislature and Napolitano agree on a plan. The unprecedented legal maneuver could cost the state more than $500 million.

Tim Hogan of the Center for Law in the Public Interest first sued the state over English instruction in 1992, on behalf of a Nogales family named Flores. He won a court order in Flores vs. Arizona in 2000 to spend more money on teaching about 160,000 students in Arizona who speak foreign languages, mostly Spanish.

The same federal judge gave lawmakers until the end of the last legislative session to come up with a spending plan, but that deadline has passed.

Napolitano vetoed an English-learner plan supported by Weiers and Bennett, calling it inadequate because it added only $13.5 million in new money and forced schools to apply for grants in future years. Napolitano proposed a more expensive funding plan earlier this summer, supported by Hogan, that would spend about $185 million a year to shrink class sizes and better train teachers.

But Weiers and Bennett have refused to look at it until Napolitano agrees to reverse her vetoes on school choice and a handful of other budget items.

Napolitano has said she vetoed the corporate tuition tax credit because Republican leaders did not approve the version they promised in negotiations. She wanted the tax credit to sunset after five years, but the approved version called only for a legislative review. Napolitano has said she will sign a corporate tuition tax credit with a sunset.

If Napolitano can patch up her differences with legislative Republicans, who hold majorities in both houses, she said she will call a special session to pass an English-language learner plan and a corporate tuition tax credit together.