On a stop in Payson during a statewide swing to launch his campaign for governor, Attorney General Terry Goddard challenged the legal basis of a lawsuit to block health care reform as well as the legality of key legislative budget cuts.
“The governor is grandstanding,” said Goddard of Gov. Jan Brewers determination to join 15 other states in challenging the constitutionality of recently enacted federal health care reforms. “She has no idea what the legal factors are. It’s a legal mish mash.”
Goddard offered a wide-ranging critique of the year-long budget melt-down that turned into a standoff between the Republican governor and the Republican Legislature about whether to include a sales tax increase as part of the effort to close a $3 billion deficit. The Legislature ultimately put a 1-cent sales tax increase on the May ballot and approved a host of deep spending cuts — some of which Goddard said are probably illegal.
He said the budget breakdown demonstrates the need to involve both parties to reach compromises to solve the state’s pressing problems.
“The gridlock stems from a extraordinary partisanship and a lack of civil discourse.”
He cited polls showing 75 percent of the voters say Arizona is moving “in the wrong direction.”
“I’m hugely disappointed. We’re moving in the wrong direction on the budget, the wrong direction on education and the wrong direction in working together.”
A former Phoenix mayor and son of a former Arizona governor, Goddard said ”we’ve always had a tradition in Arizona of trying to do what’s best for the state, but in the past few years that’s been completely lost.”
Goddard spoke to about 50 people at Tiny’s Restaurant on Wednesday, after a friendly introduction from Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, who has been close to Gov. Brewer and is a long-time Republican.
Evans said that during his stint as head of the Arizona Farm Bureau he got to know Goddard, who represented the state’s cities in various disagreements with the farm board.
“The farmers were saying, I was here before you and I don’t care if you like the smell of those cows,” said Evans.
“I love that smell,” quipped Goddard.
“It’s the smell of money,” Evans laughed, before adding that Goddard was a “good friend and stalwart when it comes to doing what’s right for the state of Arizona.”
Star Valley Mayor Bill Rappaport, Payson Councilor Ed Blair and Gila County Supervisor Shirley Dawson also attended the event.
Some of the questions in the wide-ranging session focused on the state budget woes, including deep proposed cuts in health care. Gov. Brewer held a special session to get legislative approval to file suit against the federal government to try to block the recently enacted health reforms, largely on the basis that the legislation would trample on the powers reserved to the states by the Constitution.
In addition, Arizona is protesting a provision in the health care reform legislation that prevents states from cutting their Medicaid programs that provide coverage to the poor. The Legislature had approved cuts that would drop some 350,000 people from the program — including about 4,000 Gila County residents.
The cuts would have essentially dropped the coverage required by a voter-approved initiative that got 80 percent of the vote and an expansion of the program to provide coverage to children. The $1 billion in annual state savings would have resulted in the loss of $3-4 billion in federal funding. Eliminating the Kids Care program would cost 38,000 children health coverage in order to save the state $22 million — at the cost of $97 million in federal funding.
Goddard terms that an “idiotic” decision. “This is not responsible government — this is government malpractice.”
Worse yet, said Goddard, the cuts in defiance of federal law could result in the lost of $7 billion in Medicaid funding for the state’s AHCCCS program.
Goddard said the real problem stems from years of income tax cuts that left the state heavily dependent on sales and construction taxes. As a result, the downturn had an exaggerated impact on state revenues — which dropped by nearly a third. And instead of working with Democrats when the size of the problem first became apparent, the Legislature descended into a year of deadlock.
The Legislature has approved cuts likely to cripple the state for years to come, he said.
“I don’t believe we can ever reconstruct our economy without high quality public education,” he noted. Cuts have not only reduced university budgets by about a quarter but forced tuition increases that have boosted the public universities from among the least expensive in the nation to among the most expensive.
“Arizona is at the very bottom” in support for education, he said.
“We need to say, ‘we’re tired of being at the bottom of the barrel. I want to go from the bottom 10 to the top 10 and reach for the stars.”