PHOENIX — Refusing to blink, Gov. Jan Brewer late Thursday vetoed five bills sent to her this week by Senate President Andy Biggs despite her threat she would do just that.
In separate veto messages to lawmakers, Brewer did not comment on the merits of the proposals. Several of them had been approved with bipartisan support.
But the governor said that’s not the point. Instead, she pointed to the moratorium she announced more than two weeks ago on signing new bills until there is resolution of a new state budget, one that includes her Medicaid expansion plan.
“It is disappointing I must demonstrate the moratorium was not an idle threat,” Brewer wrote to Biggs and the sponsor of each bill.
But Biggs told Capitol Media Services the Senate did exactly what she had initially requested.
He pointed out that gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson, in announcing the moratorium, said Brewer wanted “progress” on the issues. Biggs pointed out the Senate last week approved the budget and the Medicaid expansion — albeit over his own objections — and sent it to the House.
“The Senate made substantial progress,” Biggs said. Now, he said, Brewer has moved the goalposts with her demand for “resolution,” presumably the way she wants it and not an alternative like the one being pushed by House Speaker Andy Tobin.
“I’m really frustrated by what I see as extortion or blackmail,” Biggs said.
Benson, however, said nothing had changed since Brewer’s pronouncement the first full week of May, after acting on more than 200 bills, not to send her anything more until there was real progress on the issues. He disputed Biggs’ contention that Senate approval meets that definition.
“It takes more than one chamber to pass a budget and to pass Medicaid,” he said.
Benson sidestepped questions of whether Brewer has to get the Medicaid plan the way she wants to unfreeze her bill-signing pen.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said. “Obviously, she’d like to see it resolved in the manner that makes the most sense,” meaning her plan.
Brewer wants to tax hospitals $240 million to take advantage of the federal Affordable Care Act and expand the state’s Medicaid program by more than 300,000. She said it makes financial sense with the federal government kicking in about $1.6 billion.
Biggs, however, is opposed not only philosophically to what foes have called Obamacare but also does not believe the federal government will keep up its end of the bargain. He proposed a more limited restoration of some of the cuts made in the program in prior years, using only state tax dollars.
In the end, though, five Republicans aligned with the 13 Senate Democrats to overrule him.
The Senate president said the governor got what she wanted out of his chamber. Now, he said, she’s just being obstinate.
“What she’s doing is saying ... ‘If I don’t get what I want, then good policy would be vetoed,” he said. “And that’s problematic for the state.”
Anyway, Biggs said, there is no way to know whether the House will go along. While Brewer’s GOP allies claim to have the votes, Tobin has his own alternative, one that would require a public vote that the governor does not want.
Biggs acknowledged he was aware of the governor’s earlier request earlier this month that he stopped transmitting bills. And both he and Tobin did that, he said, as a courtesy to the governor.
He said that’s not an unusual practice, pointing out lawmakers also did not send bills to Brewer’s office when she was out of the state. That is because the Arizona Constitution requires the governor to sign or veto any bills within five days, not counting Sundays, or the measures become law without her signature.
But Biggs said no one told him Senate approval was not enough to unplug the legislative roadblock. Anyway, Biggs said he could no longer hold onto measures, at least in part because the courtesy may be unconstitutional.
He pointed out the governor herself sued the Legislature in 2009 when lawmakers would not send her budget bills which had been given final approval. Chief Justice Ruth McGregor said lawmakers cannot approve legislation and then sit on it, whether for political or other purposes.
“After the Legislature finally passes a bill, the Legislature cannot delay presenting it to the governor,” McGregor wrote. She said the only permissible delay is for the necessary clerical and procedural maneuvers.
The package of vetoes included one substantial change in law: expanding the scope of an existing state law designed to let individuals go to court if they believe a law, rule or regulation interferes with their religious views.
But the other four were largely technical.
For example, Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, sponsored legislation to prohibit constables from acting as private process servers outside their legal duties, or from owning an interest in any firm in the business of private process serving. And Burges told Capitol Media Services she consented to having her measure sent to Brewer.
“I don’t care,” Burges said when informed of the governor’s action. And Burges said she was carrying the measure on behalf of one of Brewer’s agencies.
Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, said she allowed Biggs to send her two bills to Brewer, saying she presumed that Senate approval of the budget and Medicaid plan unfroze the moratorium. And Yee said she never anticipated a veto of either of her two education bills, both of which had unanimous approval.
One removed certain reporting requirements for school districts about their buses. The other required to Department of Education to prescribe the criteria for a school graded “F” to improve its score.
Yee said she has been assured that, despite Thursday’s vetoes, the governor is willing to consider the issues.
By law, the same measures cannot be resent. Instead, lawmakers will have to find another measure on which to amend the provisions or get special permission to introduce an entirely new bill.