Gov. Jan Brewer displayed a shocking indifference to the plight of students, voters and rural communities this week by her inexplicable veto of SB 1497 — a key element in the plan to build a four-year college campus in Payson.
Her office did not return phone calls yesterday to explain her decision to override the sizeable, bipartisan majorities the bill attracted in the Legislature.
Her veto message cited only the possibility of “unintended consequences” stemming from the bill that would make it possible for Arizona State University to partner with Payson to set up a Separate Legal Entity (SLE).
This SLE would make it possible to use private financing and bonds to build a 6,000-student campus in Payson and keep ASU’s lease payments so low that students could pay half-priced tuition.
Maybe the governor has some secret reason for arbitrarily overruling legislators of her own party and monkey wrenching years of dedicated effort and careful planning.
There was no known opposition to the legislation that passed easily in the House and Senate unlike some of her other vetoes, which had mountains of opposition for legislation that made no sense. This bill made total sense to everyone, apparently except the governor and her staff.
Think about what a Payson campus would accomplish.
It could bring a form of economic stabilization to Payson and northern Gila County and put people to work in a county that suffers from high unemployment. By August one company would have broken ground on a plant to build solar panels and employ 100 or more people eventually.
It would provide many construction-related jobs and provide long-term employment with people working at the college and who know what other businesses. Sony and Panasonic, among other major corporations were excited at being on the ground floor of a new college, a green college using the latest technology. Another company was waiting in the wings to build a resort type of motel adjacent to the new college.
Backers of the college were willing to invest between $400-$500 million to build the college in Payson. Can it still happen? Maybe. But it will be a much more difficult project with complications and delays. All the governor had to do was sign the bill which had overwhelming legislative support.
At minimum, the veto will increase the interest costs of the visionary project by several million. At worst, it will force Payson to abandon its plans to work out a deal with ASU and turn instead to a private college.
Mind you, the veto message offered the loopy opinion that the last-minute veto won’t delay a project now facing critical deadlines. Moreover, the governor also promised to work with the local backers to complete the project.
We certainly hope she meant that — although it sounds like empty political blather in the wake of the veto.
The governor’s action makes no sense. Mind you, the governor herself has set as a goal the doubling of the number of undergraduate degrees awarded in the next decade to ensure the state can compete for the good, high-paid jobs on which our economic future depends.
The backers of the ASU campus had put together a deal that would provide at the beginning 1,000 degrees to students and later 6,000 degrees annually at no cost to the state at half the tuition cost as the state’s other university campuses.
Moreover, the Payson model pointed the way toward the creation of low-cost undergraduate colleges throughout the state. Such a network would serve the state’s need for a college-educated work force while supporting rural economies.
So now the governor has rejected this creative solution for no particular reason that we can understand — save perhaps a mindless determination to hobble the Board of Regents.
Local supporters led by the long-suffering Payson Mayor Kenny Evans have promised to rapidly draft a backup plan. Such a plan might require the shift to a private university, freed from the irrational restrictions imposed by the governor’s veto.
Now we can only hope that the battered backers of the campus can leap this latest, needless stumbling block. Once again, elected officials have ignored that most basic adage: If you can’t help, get out of the way.
So we can only hope that the supporters of the campus will once again rise to the occasion ... and that the governor’s promise to help those supporters deal with the needless damage she has inflicted isn’t just more political double talk.