DALLAS - With the end of the fiscal year just five days away, Arizona's $8.2 billion budget remains in limbo after the state Supreme Court failed to end a standoff between Gov. Jan Brewer and legislative leaders.
Brewer filed suit against Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, and other leaders last week, seeking a Supreme Court order that the Legislature send her the budget it passed three weeks ago.
Anticipating a Brewer veto, Republican legislative leaders refused to send Brewer the nine bills that make up the spending plan. By reducing the turnaround time to craft a compromise after a veto, lawmakers were trying to force Brewer to accept their version.
In its ruling Tuesday, the court gave each side a sort of victory without solving the impasse. Brewer was right, the court ruled, in claiming the delay was unconstitutional. But the court refused to order the bills sent to Brewer immediately, citing "unique circumstances."
"The Legislature has committed to this court that it will present the bills at issue to the governor no later than June 30, 2009, only five working days from today," the court ruling read. "Under these unique circumstances, although we accept jurisdiction, in our discretion, we deny the relief requested."
After the ruling, Brewer issued a statement again calling for the Legislature to send her the bills immediately.
"Anything less than an expedient presentment of the bills to my office is clearly a violation of the Arizona Constitution as found today by the Supreme Court," she said. "The Legislature should not continue to hold these bills hostage, and should instead transmit the bills immediately."
In a joint statement, Adams and Burns said they were "pleased the court will not intervene in the present situation, and we will continue to work with the governor to reach consensus on a budget."
The sticking point between Brewer and the Legislature is how to erase a $3 billion budget shortfall that the governor estimates may be as high as $4 billion. Brewer wants a three-year sales tax increase to help cover the gap, while lawmakers rely entirely on spending cuts and accounting maneuvers to balance the budget.
Leaders of local governments, fearing that they will have to cut even deeper into recently passed budgets, lined up behind Brewer. Her plan does not require local governments to surrender so-called state shared revenue.
Phoenix officials have already been forced to dip into the city's $32 billion rainy-day fund to close an unexpected mid-year budget gap. The shortfall originally pegged at $12 million could grow to $14 million by the end of the fiscal year on Tuesday.
The City Council earlier this year cut spending by $270 million. Phoenix sales tax revenues have fallen 8%, according to city estimates. If the Legislature's budget goes into effect, the city would lose an additional $12 million in vehicle-license tax revenue.
Meanwhile, Brewer is preparing for an unprecedented shutdown of state government in the event the budget does not reach her in time.