Updated Mar 19, 2013 - 6:40 pm
Senate holds bills as Gov. Jan Brewer pushes priorities
PHOENIX -- A routine final vote on an Arizona Senate bill granting anonymity to lottery winners was delayed Tuesday by a developing battle between Gov. Jan Brewer and legislative leaders over her stalled priorities of Medicaid expansion and an overhaul of the state's sales tax collection system.
The lottery bill was set for a final vote after being approved last month by the House, and if passed it would have been sent to Brewer for her signature.
But Senate President Andy Biggs pulled it from consideration because Brewer has asked leaders to slow down on sending her bills and work instead on her priorities.
Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson confirmed the governor told Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin late last week she wanted them to focus on her proposals for Medicaid expansion, a sales tax collection overhaul and education reform. But he said she didn't tell them to stop sending her additional bills.
``The governor is just asking for some focus on those priorities and they'll be time for those issues as well,'' Benson said. ``We've now been in session 50-plus days- so we're just looking for some movement on these key priorities.''
Although the word ``veto'' was apparently never used, it brought up memories of a 2009 budget standoff. Brewer vetoed the budget and forced lawmakers to return for a special session. And Brewer used the same tactic last year, issuing an actual veto threat for bills that reached her desk because lawmakers hadn't sent her a budget.
``We're not trying to cut everything off, but I think members do have some concerns, you know, do you stick a bill up there that might not be signed, if I can put it that way,'' Biggs told reporters Tuesday.
Tuesday's delays come a day before Brewer's Medicaid expansion proposal gets its first hearing before a House committee and a Senate panel hears the sales tax bill after it was delayed in the House.
Brewer has touted Medicaid expansion as a boon for hospitals, patients and the state because it will bring in $1.8 billion in new federal funds a year, ease uncompensated care delivered by hospitals and provide insurance for about 300,0 more people. But after a two-month charm offensive where the governor rounded up business and hospital leaders, its fate remains unclear as Republican opponents remain unswayed.
``I'm half way between `no' and `hell no,''' on Medicaid, Rep. John Kavanagh, who chairs the committee hearing the bill, said Tuesday.
The overhaul of the state's complex sales tax, formally called the Transaction Privilege Tax, has been held up because cities and towns are worried it will cost them tens of millions in revenue annually.
The current system is based on where the building is done, so developing areas get added revenue. Brewer wants it shifted to where the materials are sold and to eliminate taxes on overhead and profit, a prospect that municipalities believe would cost them millions.
Ongoing negotiations between lawmakers, cities and the governor's office have made substantial progress in recent weeks, with the governor now proposing to leave some construction taxes in place and making other concessions. Other issues included who does audits of businesses, which cities now handle but the state will take over.
But the bill was moved from the House to the Senate Monday without the former taking action, a move that Brewer's policy director Michael Hunter told the cities in a letter was only to avoid a deadline and didn't mean negotiations were ending.
The current proposals as laid out by Hunter to the cities have bridges and highways still be assessed a construction tax, allows cities to tax construction and allows cities to agree to help with local audits, among other proposed changes.
An actual Medicaid expansion bill has yet to be introduced. A lot of that can be laid on Brewer, who didn't provide draft legislation until early last week after announcing her plan in early January. Since then, she's rallied supporters at a variety of press conferences around the state, and most recently at the state Capitol.
House Speaker Andy Tobin hasn't assigned her plan a bill number, leaving Wednesday's action before Kavanagh's committee ``an informational hearing.''