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Updated Jun 17, 2014 - 3:00 pm

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer reflects on her year’s agenda

PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer entered her sixth and final year as Arizona’s
chief executive in January with a handful of goals and has mostly succeeded.

The Republican governor wanted to finish her remake of the state’s
business-tax structure, overhaul its scandal-ridden child welfare system,
enact a budget that funded priorities while ensuring it became balanced in
three years, and push a major expansion of broadband Internet service for
public schools.

She reached three out of four of those issues. But along the way, Brewer had to deal with a contentious religious-freedom bill
that many believed would allow discrimination against gays and a recalcitrant
group of lawmakers who wanted the state to ditch Common Core standards for
secondary education she supported that the state adopted in 2010.

Revoking Common Core failed in the Legislature, so Brewer never had to wield a
veto pen on that issue. But she vetoed the religious freedom bill known as
Senate Bill 1062 and used her executive power to push lawmakers to adopt her top
priorities.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Brewer reflected on the
regular session that ended April 24 and a special session in the final week of
May that reformed the child welfare system.

Child welfare

The discovery of more than 6,000 child abuse and neglect reports that weren’t
investigated led Brewer to yank Child Protective services from its parent agency
and ask lawmakers to make it a separate Cabinet-level agency with more than $60
million in new funding. Remaking the agency that has been plagued with
shortcomings for decades was a major policy victory, one she hopes will be
longstanding.

“We’ve always put Band-Aids on this issue. And by what we’ve been able to
complete, now it is a plan and it’s going to be executed and people are going to
be held responsible, and there’s going to be transparency. And there’s money.”

Fiscal issues looming

Brewer has overseen hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts in recent
years. But looming over the state’s budget is a school-funding court case that
would cost the state as much as $1.3 billion in back payments. Dealing with that
decision will likely fall to Brewer’s successor.

“I think that whoever is governor at that time, again that’s what governors
do: They face tough choices. You have to determine what it is and how you want
to lead. No different than when I came into office.”

Economy and state budget

Brewer had to make major budget cuts when she took office in 2009 as the state
plunged into a major recession that cut revenue. Child welfare took big hits, as
did education. But Brewer believes the tax cuts she made to draw business to the
state will pay off.

“We have a plan and we truly believe, and I believe, that we will be
structurally balanced by 2017 — and that if we follow that plan that will
happen.”

Senate Bill 1062

Brewer faced a challenge early in the session, when lawmakers sent her a bill
expanding the rights of people to refuse service based on their religious views.
Opponents said the bill that hit Brewer’s desk when she was in Washington
allowed discrimination against gays. Brewer faced national pressure to act.

“I read bills, and I didn’t like that bill from the beginning. I was concerned
about it and stated very clearly at our meeting (with backers) that I was
concerned about this bill and I wished it would never see the (light of day) up
here. And then next thing I know it was bam, it was through the House and
through the Senate, and I had just been gone for a day and it arrived up here.

“So I had to re-evaluate. I got back and spoke to the parties involved and
determined that my initial thoughts was certainly the right thing to do. And I
vetoed it on Wednesday. I got back on Monday. We did it in three days, and we
talked to parties on both sides, gave everybody fair hearing time, and I made my
decision and immediately did what was the right thing to do for the state of
Arizona. I have no regrets.”

School broadband

The governor in January proposed an ambitious project to put broadband into
every school in the state by spending $350 million in private, federal and state
money for the system. The proposal was quickly dead in Legislature, one of only
a few defeats for Brewer.

“Maybe it was wishful thinking. It was something that I thought was important.
But we know that when the governor presents a budget generally that people
aren’t going to accept it wholeheartedly. But overall my education funding and
my performance and accountability passed and was funded and it will do just fine
moving forward.”

Another special session

A proposal to overhaul the state’s woefully underfunded public safety pension
system is being floated by the state firefighters association and is backed by
some lawmakers. But while generally supportive, Brewer said she will not call
lawmakers back until a deal is done.

“But short of that, I don’t know if we could call them into special session
and have a bloodbath.”

Brewer’s successor

Seven Republicans are vying in August’s primary for governor, and Brewer has
yet to endorse a candidate. But she said she expects to do so and has met with
several candidates.

“I would like to weigh in because I want you to know that I do really care who
get this office. Because I know now having served here for six years that it’s a
very important position, and you have to be strong, and you have to be pragmatic
and you have to do what’s right, not for just a certain arena, you have to do
what’s right for the whole of Arizona. It’s very, very important to me.”

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