Governor Plans for Ariz. Government Shutdown
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is directing her staff to prepare for a partial shutdown of state government if a deal on the budget isn’t cut by June 30, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.
With less than three weeks remaining before a budget is required to be passed, Brewer said she’s optimistic that a solution can be reached to close the state’s big revenue gap.
“Sometime (with) the pressure of the clock ticking, things get resolved, they get resolved quicker — faster,” she said Friday after a negotiating session in a Senate office with top legislative leaders. She planned to negotiate with Legislative leaders over the weekend, and said she’s “hopeful for the best.”
But she is also preparing for the worst.
Brewer’s chief administrator already has directed state agencies to identify essential services and contracts that can and should remain going even if there is a “partial shutdown”.
“It is prudent to begin some contingency planning for reduced services beginning July 1 should there not be a budget in place,” Department of Administrator Director William Bell said Monday in a memorandum obtained by AP through a public records request.
Bell told agency heads to list only services that were essential and to say whether they’re specifically required by the state or federal constitutions, court order or voter mandate.
State government directly or indirectly provides services ranging from prisons and universities to parks and highway maintenance. It’s not clear what would happen to those and other activities if there’s no budget when the fiscal year starts.
There likely would be spinoff effects to any shutdown on local governments, contractors and other entities that have financial relationships with the state. Local school districts, for example, get much of their funding from the state.
Arizona governors and legislators haven’t failed to approve a new budget by the July 1 start of the fiscal year in recent decades, although they have often come within days and even hours of missing the deadline.
But the state’s current fiscal troubles have been called the worst ever, with Bell’s memo referring to “significant differences” between the budget approaches of Brewer and lawmakers. Sticking points include Brewer’s proposal for a temporary tax increase, varying levels of spending cuts and a grab bag of ways to help paper over the shortfall through borrowing and other maneuvers.
The shortfall is estimated at up to $4 billion for a budget that would have spending of nearly $11 million if the state could afford it.
Tax collections have been hammered by growing unemployment, the recession’s dampening of consumer spending and the housing industry’s sinkhole.
State law doesn’t specify what would happen if there’s no budget on the books when the new fiscal year starts. And some of what little legal guidance that there is on the subject is decades old.
A 1988 attorney general’s opinion advised then-Gov. Rose Mofford that the state would have limited authority to continue to operate if there’s no general appropriations bill enacted by July 1. That appropriations bill is the part of the budget that authorizes spending.
Without an appropriations bill, spending wouldn’t be permitted without some other legal basis, such as another state law or the state Constitution, according to the two-page opinion.
In 1992, Paul Bender, an Arizona State University law professor, analyzed the situation and advised the House speaker that failure to produce a budget in time “would create a chaotic legal situation outside the boundaries of current law and precedent, in which extremely serious harms might easily occur to the state and its citizens.”
As the state’s budget picture was dimming at this time last year, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano assured state workers that there wouldn’t be a shutdown. But she wouldn’t say what authority she had to accomplish that without an approved budget.
Shortly before a Napolitano-backed budget was approved over the objection of most GOP lawmakers, a key GOP senator prepared emergency legislation to keep parts of state government going temporarily without a budget.
The draft proposal by then-Senate Appropriations Chairman Bob Burns would have provided one month’s funding for the Departments of Public Safety, Corrections, Administration and Juvenile Corrections as well as the state court system, the Treasurer’s Office and the state mental hospital.
Burns is now Senate president and one of the legislative leaders negotiating with Brewer.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.