After speaking at a state tourism conference, Gov. Jan Brewer stopped to answer a few questions about her vision for the state.
Q: You just spoke at a tourism conference. Leaving aside signing SB 1070, which triggered some of the negative reaction, you have made comments about drug running and beheadings that presumably could hurt tourism by raising fears of violence. Have you overstated the violence Arizona is seeing?
A: I don't know that they (the comments) hurt tourism. I think it's part of what America is facing in regards to illegal activity that's taking place in Mexico, and it is a fact. Information has been provided to me by residents, if you will, that they have found body parts, separations of the head from the body. It's an unfortunate situation, but that just shows you the extreme violent nature of the drug cartels.
Q: I know you have said you've brought more than 2,500 jobs to Arizona, but the unemployment rate is still higher than 9 percent. Other than setting up a new economic-development authority, how do you propose to bring new jobs to Arizona?
A: Jobs is my No. 1 priority. . . . The first thing that I did was put a moratorium on all the rules and regulations. I told all the regulators to step up and say, 'If you're willing to come to Arizona, we'll help you get through the green tape and the red tape.' We've given tax credits for solar energy . . . bringing solar energy manufacturing jobs to the state. We have established my commission to help get people together and tell us how we can streamline and operate better.
"We're going to continue working . . . in regards to some type of restructuring of taxes here in Arizona, some type of tax reform. . . . It could be a variation of a lot of different things, but the bottom line is it needs to be something we can afford.
Q: The Joint Legislative Budget Committee projects a deficit for the new fiscal year, from $368 million to more than $1 billion. Are there programs you would like to see eliminated, or how do you propose closing the gap this year?
A: It's going to be a lot more cutting and more efficiency and streamlining in government. The fact of the matter is that we're going to have to live within our means, and it's going to be difficult again with painful choices. And of course we have maintenance-of-effort requirements and mandates we have to take into consideration. . . .
We were very successful in the last session when we went in and did streamlining and we did budget cutting, and in a little over 500 days we cut $2.2 billion out of the budget. The Legislature worked with us, and we were able to get that budget out.
Q: The state just sold off its buildings, buying them back at an interest rate of 4.3 percent for the next 20 years. That means it's going to cost $456 million for the $300 million package sold in June. That's on top of an earlier $735 million lease-back deal that will ultimately cost $1.1 billion. How does that square with your message of fiscal conservatism?
A: You know, it's something that probably, if someone would have asked me three years ago if that's something I would have supported, I would have said absolutely not.
But I have a requirement to govern the state of Arizona and deliver a balanced budget. I had to work with 90 members of the Legislature to get things done and moving, and we were in a situation where there was no other alternative.
I will tell you that looking at it today and talking with my fellow governors, we were more successful than they have been, because at least we were able to get a balanced budget out.
Q: Although you weren't the driving force behind SB 1070 the way you were the sales-tax increase, in the ensuing months you've become the public face of Arizona's fight to defend the law. How do you feel about the celebrity, now that you've been in the national spotlight?
A: I believe very strongly in what I'm doing. It's important (that) people understand what Arizona is facing and has faced over the years, and if the federal government is not going to step up and take care of what it's responsible for, then Arizona will, and I feel very confident in that. I believe we will win in the end.
I don't know that there's ever been a public face on illegal immigration. … It was somewhat established in the Legislature, and Sen. (Russell) Pearce moved that through. But if you recall, when I was secretary of state, I had to implement voter ID at the polls. It was difficult, and people thought the world was going to fall apart, and we were very successful in eliminating everyone's concerns, and the election came and went without a hiccup. …
It was all about illegals voting and not voting, and as an American, as a governor and as a citizen of the state of Arizona, I believe in the rule of law and will continue to fight vigorously to uphold the law.
Contact Rhonda Bodfield at Rbodfield@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.