Three greater Tucson Democrats sat around a table last week, analyzing Arizona's yet-unresolved budget circumstances and the party's interaction with the Republicans.
The current special session, called to finalize a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, is "a very special session," deadpanned District 28 Rep. Steve Farley.
"We should have done our job on June 30, and we would have if Democrats had been brought to the table when they should have been," Farley said.
But Republicans "decided they were going to do it themselves," he continued. When they couldn't, "it devolved into this huge soap opera mess."
"We were certainly trying to invite them to the table," Rep. Nancy Young Wright of District 26 said of the GOP.
When the Republicans wouldn't talk, the Democrats took their show on the road, conducting 20 separate budget hearings across Arizona and crafting their own budget proposal.
"It's revenue neutral," Young Wright said. "Our budget was fully funded."
"It did not have cuts on top of the '09 cuts," said District 25 Rep. Pat Fleming.
On the road, several points were made clear to Young Wright. People "wanted us to create jobs, especially in rural areas," she said. "And don't cut K-12 and universities any further." In her view, education cuts send "the message of a backwards state" to the rest of America. "Don't turn to education as one of your first places to whack."
"The caucuses have different perspectives," Farley said. "We know we have to have cuts, we have to have new revenues. The Republicans' was cuts, cuts, cuts, with no options for revenue. It became obvious there was no way to do this, to balance this, with cuts alone."
Democrats are not supportive of a sales tax increase, nor a sales tax vote by the people as suggested by Gov. Jan Brewer.
"The governor's temporary sales tax would make us more dependent on sales tax," Farley said. Democrats decry a sales tax increase as regressive, harming the middle class. They would lower the rate of sales tax, from 5.6 to 3.4 percent, "and broaden the base to services" not currently taxed.
"That would make us much stronger for the next downturn," Farley said. "We're a services society. We have to move to the 21st century."
"It's a 1930s system," Young Wright said of current sales tax methodology. "A lot of what we buy are services."
Young Wright said the ideology of privatizing education in Arizona has conservative proponents in the Legislature. "You can see why people are extremely touchy about that subject," Young Wright said. "There are people who wanted to attack public schools. There was no need to cut that deep."
With the in-year budget cuts of early 2009, "we really just wreaked havoc," Young Wright said. "We did a lot of harm across the state."
"When you've chopped away most of the fat, most of the muscle," education begins to die, Farley said.
Young Wright said the Legislature has a "sacred cow." It's "corrections," she suggested. "And the governor's office, the secretary of state, they increased budgets." New carpet and new computers were installed in the capitol.
"Why?" Farley asked. "Leadership starts by setting a tone for yourself. There's a real vacuum of leadership at every level."
They're all banking on changes at the polls in 2010.
"When you are the majority, you control everything," Farley said. "They break the rules, they change the rules. They control the committees, and which bills are heard. They have total control, and they still can't get it done. We are confronting a vacuum of leadership on the Republican side. They are forcing us to be partisan. … We're just as frustrated as the voters are."
"We see it up close, and we're just as frustrated," Young Wright said.
Brewer is "elusive, although she seems to get a lot of press," Fleming said. "For a while, I felt almost sorry for her." Now, "she's still leaving Democrats out of the mix."
When Brewer first called for some form of revenue enhancement, "we were very hopeful," Farley said. "Then it became very discouraging for us."
For a while, Democrats met weekly with Brewer's budget staff. "But they were completely ignored in the process," Farley said. "They're good, smart people, but they were not allowed to do their jobs, and they're still not. A true leader lets people do their jobs."
"I don't feel like I know what she wants, or why," Young Wright said.
Farley now expects a "decent solution by Labor Day."
Fleming did manage to pass a bill that would immediately allow military veterans to qualify for in-state tuition at Arizona colleges and universities.