Cmon, governor - fair is fair, even in politics
Arizona Republic
May. 25, 2005 

Gov. Janet Napolitano undoubtedly believes that her actions on the state budget were justified.

But it's hard to square those actions with any reasonable notion of fairness or honor.

The budget deal was struck between Napolitano and Senate President Ken Bennett and House Speaker Jim Weiers.

According to Napolitano, the deal included a sunset provision requiring the corporate tuition tax credit to be reauthorized after five years and an English-learner program that legislative Democrats supported.

According to the Republican leaders, the deal was to subject the corporate tuition tax credit to the same legislative review that all tax credits receive, which does not require reauthorization. The English-learner commitment was to pass a program and to consult with Democrats about it, but not necessarily to pass a program that Democrats supported.

The most important discussions took place with only the principals, so it's impossible for an outsider to know precisely which is the more accurate account. However, their plausibility can be evaluated.

On the sunset issue, it seems likely that there was just a failure by the
parties to nail down precisely what they intended.

On the English-learner issue, however, it's simply implausible that Bennett and Weiers would commit to a program supported by Democrats.

In the first place, that would effectively make the Democrats the majority party on that issue. But as importantly, the Republican leaders knew there
was a deep philosophical divide between the Republican and Democratic approaches to the issue that wasn't likely to be bridged.

In 2000, Arizona voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 203, which generally requires that English learners be put in separate classrooms to receive intense English instruction and be moved to regular classrooms only after demonstrating English proficiency.

The English-learner study commissioned by the Legislature suggests that Proposition 203 is being largely ignored. For the most part, English learners are still in regular classrooms, receiving supplemental English instruction for only part of the day.

Republicans crafted a plan to force the true implementation of English immersion. The Democrats generally oppose English immersion and want to simply increase funding for the current prevailing approach.

As a result of this huge philosophical divide, it's highly unlikely that Bennett and Weiers would make a commitment to an outcome (a bill Democrats would support) as opposed to a process (a bill would be passed and Democrats would be consulted).

Regardless of what the deal actually was, Napolitano's chief budget negotiator, George Cunningham, signed off on the corporate tuition tax credit language before it was passed with the five-year review rather than the hard sunset. He scrutinized the language carefully enough to insist that a $5 million-a-year cap apply to all donations, not just large ones, as
initially drafted.

Napolitano's subsequent veto effectively neuters Cunningham, who generally has done a very good job for the governor, as a future negotiator. After all, the governor has demonstrated that he does not speak for her.

Neutering Cunningham may not be smart management, but it's largely Napolitano's business. Nevertheless, there was a week between the passage of the budget bills and their transmittal to the governor. Republican leaders were holding them up to include an English-learner program, to fulfill what they perceived to be their commitment.

During this week, the Governor's Office discovered the lack of a hard sunset on the tuition tax credit. If this was fatal and would earn a veto, she had an obligation to so inform the Republican leaders. Republicans could then decide whether to acquiesce or to re-evaluate their willingness to give Napolitano what she wanted.

Instead, Napolitano sandbagged the Republican leaders. Her staff raised the sunset provision along with a handful of other lingering budget issues. But there was never any indication that the corporate tuition tax credit would be vetoed without a hard sunset provision.

The review provision comported with what Republican leaders thought was the deal. So, once the English-learner program was passed, they sent the entire package to the governor.

The governor's lack of straight-dealing enabled her to pocket all of what she got out of the accord, while negating the cement she knew held the Republican votes together to get those things to her in the first place. Republican leaders were left feeling, with considerable justification, betrayed.

The Napolitano forces say, not to worry. Just go into special session, put in the sunset provision and pass an English-learner bill Democrats like, and all is well.

From a Republican perspective, Napolitano is trying to sell the same bill of goods (the corporate tuition tax credit) twice: once to get funding for all-day kindergarten and a Phoenix medical school, and then again for an English-learner approach to which Republicans are philosophically opposed.

As a species, politicians aren't very reliable. They frequently say things that they don't mean and that they know to be unfair or not entirely accurate. They often don't do what they say they will, and do what they say they won't.

But within the fraternity, there's a code of conduct about how politicians treat each other. Napolitano has violated it.

She's still the governor, and ultimately what gets done in the state has to meet with her approval.

But life changes for a politician who is distrusted by other politicians. That's the situation Napolitano's conduct on the state budget has put her in.

Reach Robb at or (602) 444-8472. His column
appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.