Sen. Al Melvin believes a budget compromise — which may include property tax decreases and a ballot referral of a temporary sales tax increase — could be hammered out by the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer by month's end.
"I'm optimistic that we can come back on Monday, the 27th, and look at that budget already negotiated with her, and agreed to by her," Melvin said last week by telephone from Atlanta, where he was attending a conference. "If we work hard, the week of the 27th, I think we can get a package deal done by Friday, July 31."
Melvin said Brewer is insistent that a sales tax increase go before Arizona voters this fall. In the Legislature, "frankly, the votes are just not there for it, in either party," he believes. "I don't know of any Democrats that would vote for it. She can't get the 16 and 31 in the Republican side."
Still, Melvin said, "it looks like she's adamant that she's got to have that."
Republicans may give it to her, Melvin suggests. In exchange, he wants the Legislature, and not the governor, to have control of federal funds. He wants a permanent repeal of the state school equalization property tax, which brings in an estimated $250 million a year when it is in place. And he'd agree to a sales tax question on the ballot … but he won't vote for it in November, and would in fact work against its passage.
"My thinking is yes, we're trying to tell our members you can refer it to the ballot, and work as hard as you can to defeat it" in the fall, Melvin said. "If this is what she's holding over our heads to get the budget done, the referral, we could vote to refer, but as soon as we do, work as hard as we can to defeat it."
Melvin is convinced a sales tax increase is "the last thing we want to do for the state." It would cost families more money, and reduce jobs, he believes.
"The last thing you want to do is raise a tax in a recession," Melvin said. "We think the voters will not vote for it."
Melvin said the Legislature's Republicans and the governor agree on "almost everything except the sales tax. I can't explain her fixation with the sales tax when it goes against every Republican principle that I know. No one can explain it.
"She just signed all of these pro-gun and pro-life bills, right down the center of good conservative Republican principles," the SaddleBrooke Republican said. "She's totally left the track in the area of sales taxes."
Melvin "adamantly" disagrees with Brewer's use of the "D" words – "decimating, devastating, destroying education, when in fact we've only reduced education K-12 by 3.5 percent.
"These are very responsible reductions in light of our total revenue dropping 30-40 percent. She for whatever reason is catering to the education community, thinking it's going to help her in her re-election. If we don't get a resolution to this, there will be a Republican gubernatorial primary next year, with one or two true conservative Republicans against her, and I suspect one of them would win."
Arizona must have "additional reductions in state spending," said Melvin. "It took us 90 years as a state to get a budget of $6 billion, in '02. It only took six years, '02 to '08, to almost double it to $11 billion under a Democratic governor, Napolitano. A lot of excessive spending that has to be cut back. In any family, you don't spend beyond your means. We have to face the stark reality that you don't spend more than you take in."