Monday, August 17, 2009

Winners and Losers in the Arizona Budget Mess

Arizona’s budget has hit another dead-end, and at this point, it is anyone’s guess when this problem will finally be resolved. Despite solid support in the House, the negotiated Republican budget gained a surprising 14 votes in the Senate, but has been unable to gather support from the extreme ends of the Republican Party or anyone from the left. In fact, some may find it important to note that not a single Democrat has supported the budget package thus far. In this current hyper-partisan environment, even a whiff of defection is attacked with great force.

It would be easy to say that there are no winners in this budget farce, but the reality is, the Democrats, the Republicans, and the Governor all have opportunities to walk away from this budget process claiming victory or being the ones painted with defeat. How these groups move forward from here will determine the final outcome.

The Democrats

The Democrats have done a good job of being a silent minority. They have kept their mouths shut while the Republicans faction fight, offering up ideas, that have been deemed by most as complicated and not very realistic. However, their efforts have been enough to keep the blame off of them and on the Republicans, a strategy focused on 2010, where AG Terry Goddard likely running for the top-spot uncontested.

How they Win: If the Republicans continue to falter and fight among themselves, the Democrats can continue their waiting game and come out on top. If the fighting lasts long enough, the Governor and several Republicans will have no choice but to come back to the table and negotiate. This will mean fewer cuts to the budget, which will likely lose Republican votes. The Democrats would then have to carry the water, but then they could also claim that they were able to succeed where their Republican counterparts could not. Ultimately, if the Republicans don’t show up, the Dems will have a real chance to gain some seats.

How they Lose: How soon the Democrats forget how the Napolitano budgets were formed. A coalition of the middle must work with the Governor to get a budget done that is viewed by most as the best possible compromise. Calling out the Governor is not a good start to that process. The worst case scenario is the Republicans figuring out how to pass a budget without the vote of a single Democrat, which could be used next year to point to their unwillingness to solve the budget problem. They run a risky gamble by not voting for the tax increase, the game of chicken may leave them with deeper cuts and no new source of revenue.

The Republicans

The Republicans hold the majority of both the House and the Senate. In theory, they should have the best chance of getting things done. However, fights over revenue, cuts, and the depth of the current budget problem have lead to a battle of ideologies. The Governor has held steadfast to her desire for a sales tax referral, which has since been tempered by a net tax cut by the leaders in the House, yet a referral is still completely unpalatable to some of the most conservative members in the Senate.

How they Win: It seems simple enough, but Republicans win if they can figure out a way to get a budget passed. The protracted session will be something that they will have to overcome, but getting something done now, will give them time to recover. If they pass the referral, they can campaign against the initiative, if they choose, and still get credit for allowing the voters to decide. If they can find a way to pass a budget without a referral, it will be claimed as a greater victory for the far-right conservatives, but it would be tempered by the further cuts that would need to be made later in the year. The Republicans need to prove that they can lead coming out of this budget process.

How they Lose: Imagine this scenario – the budget negotiations drag on for several more weeks with even more bitter Republican on Republican rancor. The Governor turns to the Democrats for negotiations, a move that further angers the far-right, prompting a potential candidate such as Treasurer Dean Martin to throw his hat in the Republican primary. Martin, who is in the same position as Goddard where he can comment, but doesn’t need to actually offer up a solution, proceeds to criticize the Governor and any Republicans willing to negotiate with her, creating even more tension in the legislature. The final result is a disaster for Republicans, resulting in a cobbled together budget reminiscent of Napolitano where the Democrats control the negotiations with a couple of Republicans from swing districts who must desperately avoid dramatic cuts. Any Republicans willing to negotiate would face the same criticisms and attacks in the Primary as those who voted for Napolitano’s budget next time around, and the others who don’t support the budget face the question of if they can lead.

The Governor

The Governor has made her intentions clear from the beginning that a tax referral must be a part of the budget package to give voters a choice on how much they want to cut from state government. While the move has created controversy within the Republican party, it’s a move that allows the Governor to claim issues such as education and healthcare, which are swing issues among important groups such as Republican an Independent women. Beyond the need for the tax, sometimes, the Governor has not been clear on what she is looking for, a fact not only has made her the target of Republican attacks, but the Democrats have focused in on her as well, capitalizing on the budget to question her leadership.

How She Wins: There are really two ways for the Governor to win. First, if she can actually get the sales tax to the ballot along with the net tax cuts, she will be able to claim total victory. This will mean either getting one or two more Republican senators to come along or landing a rouge Democrat who wants to cut a deal. With the Senate passing the budget deal that they already presented to her several weeks ago, there is a dark horse option for the Governor to consider. She could sign the Republican budget, leaving the Democrats holding the bag. She could explain how she wanted the better package that saved education, and blame a hyper-partisan nature of Democrats in the legislature who were unwilling to come along. Many forget that, despite tough opponents, the Brewer has never lost an election. Giving her a scapegoat and then moving on to mending fences with the conservatives give her the potential to make the cuts while still holding the “did her best to save education” chip.

How She Loses: The scenario spelled out in the Republican loss section is also likely the worse case option for the Governor, especially if she wants to seek re-election. Her veto of the budget has won her some favor among the supporters of education and the independents, but it does provide harm on the conservative side. A far-right conservative such as Martin, Len Munsil, or Andrew Thomas could challenge her in the primary and wage a bloody battle. Two scenarios could happen: One, the ultra conservative wins the Primary while Goddard runs uncontested. This leaves Goddard to stay more moderate, while the Conservative would go far-right in the Primary, and thus create positions that lose swing groups such as Republican women in the General. Or the second and more likely scenario is that since seated Governors rarely lose primary contests, chances are that Brewer would make it through, but not without being weakened significantly. The result would be a split Republican base not showing up for Brewer, leaving Goddard to snatch a victory.

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