In Arizona, Searching for a Sales Tax Deal

We'll have some suspense tomorrow in Arizona, as Governor Jan Brewer continues to push for legislative approval of a ballot measure to increase the ...
by | December 16, 2009

We'll have some suspense tomorrow in Arizona, as Governor Jan Brewer continues to push for legislative approval of a ballot measure to increase the state sales tax. From the Yuma Sun:

PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer ordered lawmakers back to the Capitol on Thursday to deal with the budget deficit even though she doesn't have the votes for her plan.

Brewer said Tuesday she has been told by House and Senate leadership that they have corralled the necessary support from Democrats to push through legislation putting a temporary sales tax hike on the ballot this spring. Those Democratic votes are necessary because some Republicans will not vote for the plan.

Only thing is, Democratic legislative leaders said those votes are not there -- at least not yet and maybe not ever.

The sales tax issue issue has dominated (and perhaps destroyed) Brewer's year-old governorship. I understand why Republican legislators have been reluctant to support the tax vote. They're conservatives. Many of them have pledged to oppose all tax increases. The only reason they're even willing to entertain the idea is that the Arizona budget situation is atrocious.

What I don't quite understand is why Brewer has been unable for so many months to strike a deal with Democrats. The Democrats in the legislature, after all, are intent on preserving key government services. They're ideologically sympathetic to the tax. Shouldn't they want to make a deal?

The big problem, I think, is that Democrats are in the minority. It would be fairly easy to design a sales tax proposal that Democrats would like. What's harder is designing one that Democrats will like and that will win a few Republican votes. The search for Republican votes (not to mention Brewer's own conservative views) was why earlier proposals linked the sales tax increase to future tax cuts. That was something Democrats wouldn't accept.

Democrats' minority status is also creating political hurdles to a deal. The state is in a financial crisis and Republicans control the governorship and the legislature. Regardless of what the responsible thing might be, there's an electoral temptation for Democrats to let the Republican-led turmoil continue as long as possible. Democrats also criticize Brewer for not reaching out to them.

Still, I have to think at some point Democrats and Brewer make a deal that a few Republicans in the legislature accept too. Brewer is indicating that this deal already has been reached, while the Democrats say it hasn't. From my experience, unless both sides say there's a deal, there's not a deal -- yet.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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