It looks like Governor Napolitano will be heading to D.C. in January, taking her veto pen with her. Republicans are licking their chops in anticipation, counting the days until their bills find a more hospitable welcome on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.

I have a word of warning for the salivating Republicans, including our own newly elected Sen. Al Melvin and Rep. Vic Williams: Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

Napolitano gave Republican legislators a license to be irresponsible. They could pass outlandish, extreme right-wing bills with impunity, knowing Napolitano would veto them. Their ultra-conservative base was happy — “See, we passed the legislation you wanted. Blame the Democratic Governor for vetoing it!” — while the moderate Republicans and Independent voters they need to keep them in office didn’t really care, because the legislation never made it into law.

When Brewer is governor, she’ll sign most of the bills the Republican majority puts in front of her. That presents them with a new problem. Do they continue throwing red meat legislation to the base and risk losing the moderate vote, or do they follow a more moderate course and risk being called traitors by their most rabid followers?

Their biggest quandary has to be, how do they balance the budget, especially with tax revenues tanking? The problem will only get worse in the next few years.

The surest way to ease their budgetary problems would be to bring back the portion of the property tax that was suspended a few years ago when the economy was doing well and state’s coffers were full, but that would infuriate their tax-hating base. So reinstating the tax doesn’t look like an option.

If Republicans could produce the miracle of hacking away at the budgetary fat they insist is everywhere without cutting muscle and bone out of the programs needed to maintain and improve the quality of the state, and do it without raising taxes, even this tax-and-spend liberal would be impressed. But I don’t see that happening.

Take education, our biggest budget item. Republicans say they’re pro-education. They want higher teacher salaries and the best educational materials and support for students. But with the state going further in the red by the day, legislative leaders are talking about the need for cuts in K-12 funding, which is already 49th in the nation.

The cuts to higher education could be even worse. Some Republican legislators want student tuition money to be used to balance the budget. And that’s just the beginning of what is sure to be a frontal assault on university funding.

Though the base may be happy with the cuts, others will soon realize the Republican budget ax is jeopardizing the futures of Arizona’s next generation, from kindergarteners through grad school students, both by limiting their educational opportunities and by driving away businesses that depend on a vibrant academic community for their growth and prosperity.

The Republican legislators and Governor Brewer will deservedly take the blame for their financial assaults on education, since they will be in complete control. You can be sure the minority Democrats will not be shy about pointing this out.

The education budget is the prime example of the perils facing Republicans, but it’s only one of many. Republicans have been dying to gut state-run health care and cripple the Department of Environmental Quality for years. Now they’ll have a chance to make the changes they’ve wanted. And don’t forget the bills they’ve passed over the years on hot-button items like women’s health and immigration. Now they have a free hand to make them the law of the state.

Will they show a little pragmatism and restraint now that they hold all the reins of power, or will they let their ideology run wild? The next few years will tell the tale.

David Safier is a regular contributer to Blog for Arizona.

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