PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer signed a $9.2 billion spending plan Friday — but not before using her constitutional power to remove some items she doesn’t like.
The governor said some proposals appear to have no clear purpose, like $500,000 to the Attorney General’s Office for “Northern Arizona law enforcement” and $10,000 to the Land Department for a landing strip, also in Northern Arizona.
And she saw no reason to spend $500,000 for an “alternative teacher development program” to find ways to put people in the classroom without going through the regular process.
But Brewer also took a particular slap at the Legislature itself, eliminating entirely — at least for the time being — the Legislature’s entire Ombudsman’s Office.
Brewer is displeased that lawmakers added $200,000 to the ombudsman’s current $628,500 budget to “prioritize the investigation and processing of complaints relating to Child Protective Services or its successor agency.” But lawmakers chose not to agree to Brewer’s request to create a new Department of Child Welfare or Family Services, and funded only $59 million of the $80 million she sought for the current program.
Legislative leaders said they wanted to wait to make that decision until a special study on the new agency is completed, probably early next month. Brewer was willing to go along with that delay.
But the governor, in her veto message, said if it’s too early to know what it costs to run the new agency, it’s also too early for lawmakers to give extra money to an arm of the Legislature to monitor the agency.
“They’re willing to pay themselves for new staff to oversee CPS, but they’re not willing to fund CPS at the levels the governor asked for,” gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder said.
Brewer could not simply wipe out the $200,000 increase because the Arizona Constitution allows the governor only to kill spending items she does not like. And the entire funding for Ombudsman’s Office is in a single line item.
Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, called the move “outrageous.”
“We’re going to take away an office whose ... purpose is standing between average men and women of this state who are being pushed around by the government,” he said.
Wilder said the veto does not mean the office, charged with helping people having problems with state government, will disappear. He said lawmakers can fund the agency again — but only when they return to the Capitol and properly deal with child-welfare funding.
But Biggs said the premise behind Brewer’s veto is flawed.
He said while lawmakers did not give the governor everything she wanted, they added 550 new staffers in the last 18 months, which will mean a higher caseload for the child-welfare agency, and thus a greater need for the Ombudsman’s Office to help affected families.
Brewer’s desire for more child-welfare funding and the Legislature’s need to fund the Ombudsman’s Office set the stage for what could be a contentious special session next month.
The governor wants to create a new state agency out of what has been CPS, divorcing it from the Department of Economic Security. That move followed a disclosure that more than 6,500 abuse and neglect complaints over three years had gone uninvestigated.
The governor said in her message to lawmakers that she is willing to wait while a special panel takes a closer look at how the agency should operate and how much funding is necessary.
But Brewer said she expects action once that report is completed.
“The success of the new agency will not only require a strong administrative and operational structure, but also sufficient resources,” she wrote. “It is imperative that we appropriate and wisely marshal available funds to accomplish this mission.”
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said lawmakers purposely postponed dealing with the new agency.
“We wanted to give some degree of respect to the governor’s task force,” said Kavanagh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. He said legislators will take a look once that panel’s work is done.
Brewer’s veto of the Northern Arizona law enforcement funding disappointed Attorney General Tom Horne, who said it was to provide a full-time Mohave County Sheriff’s Office presence in the polygamous community of Colorado City “to be sure that the law is enforced objectively and not according to people’s religion.”
Horne said he specifically wanted to be sure the women in the community, run largely by the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, can escape if they want.
“And in fact there are women who did escape who said they couldn’t have but for the sheriff being there,” said Horne, who has used other funds until now.
“And it would be a tragedy to put it back in the hands of the marshals who are under the thumbs of the dominant church.”
Wilder said Brewer was unaware of why Horne wanted the money, as there was no hint in the budget .
Horne said if Brewer had any questions, she should have called.
“She does not have an obligation to pick up the phone,” Wilder said. “The Legislature has an obligation to express its intent for funding that it appropriates.”