Brewer reluctantly agrees to accept federal stimulus funds
Capitol Media Services
March  20, 2009

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By Howard Fischer

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/285188

PHOENIX Gov. Jan Brewer has decided to accept federal stimulus dollars being offered to Arizona even though she thinks accepting the aid delays fixing the state's financial condition.

In a letter to President Obama, Brewer formally certified Arizona is requesting its share of the $789 billion package which became law on Feb. 17, paving the way for Arizona to get upward of $4 billion.

But an aide to Brewer said that doesn't mean she intends to accept every nickel.

Paul Senseman said gubernatorial staffers are still studying which programs have "strings" attached that could end up costing Arizona more money in the long run.

He said, though, Brewer had to act quickly. The federal law gave governors only 45 days after the bill was signed to queue up for the cash or lose it.

And Brewer herself said that if she didn't take Arizona's share of the pot, it would go to residents of other states.

Much of the money Arizona could get is earmarked for specific purposes, ranging from road construction to nutrition programs for the elderly. And some goes directly to schools, particularly those with a large number of youngsters living in poverty or with disabilities.

But the state also is in line for about $832 million in education dollars, money that needs to be used during the next two budget years for classroom funding or building maintenance.

The more interesting pot is $185 million that goes to Brewer to use in any way she wants through the next two years.

Senseman said no decisions have been made on how to divide that up. But Brewer's letter to Obama, as required by federal law, requires her to certify that the dollars "will be used to create jobs and promote economic growth."

In her letter, though, the governor expressed some concerns about balancing Arizona's budget with one-time help from Washington, saying the dollars "further exacerbate our state's long-term fiscal woes" by allowing lawmakers to defer difficult decisions about what state taxpayers can afford.

"While temporarily useful, they extend programs that have accelerated the growth of government spending to an unprecedented and unsustainable level that neither our state nor our great nation can afford," Brewer wrote to Obama. She promised to "work to end such practices here" and urged him to "encourage similar restraint at the federal level."

Ultimately, though, Brewer said she could not say no to free cash.

"To forgo these funds at this time would be a disservice to Arizona taxpayers who have remitted their federal taxes in good faith and have seen many of those hard-earned dollars expended for the benefit of residents of other states," the governor wrote. "Our citizens need their fair share of those funds returned home to provide for their families during these hours of our greatest need."

One issue is whether Arizona should accept federal dollars to pay unemployment benefits to those who are in job-training programs and not actively looking for work. That would require altering state law about who is eligible.

The debate concerns what happens when the federal dollars dry up in two years and now the cost of providing benefits to those people is borne solely by the state's unemployment trust fund, fueled by premiums paid by employers.

Brewer's letter to Obama came as a bit of a surprise to some legislative leaders. House Majority Whip John McComish, R-Phoenix, had not even seen her letter sent more than a week ago until he got a copy from a reporter.

But McComish said it is within Brewer's power to do what she did without consulting with lawmakers. And Senseman said the move should have been anticipated, saying Brewer said in her speech to a joint session of the Legislature that she intended to take whatever money she could get.