Here's to Truth, Peace and Justice - may all prevail in the New Year.
Heads up, those of you union members who work for the state: better get some representation on this Privatization Committee she's putting together to trim the budget...
"Extraordinary times call for extraordinary action,'' the governor said Monday in a speech to her Cabinet, a meeting specifically open to the media. Brewer said while the Legislature needs to do more to resolve the current deficit — a figure she put at $1.5 billion even after a just-approved $194 million fix — she also needs to take unilateral action.
"It is the raw truth, filled with unpleasant facts and painful answers,'' she said of her plan.
But there may be less in her plan than meets the eye:
• One element requires the Department of Corrections to turn over to Immigation and Customs Enforce any illegal immigrant inmate who is within 90 days of his or her mandatory release date.
Some illegal immigrants already are eligible for deportation after completing half of their sentences under a plan the state has used since 2005. But that program is open only to those who have committed minor felonies and are not repeat offenders.
Interim Corrections Director Charles Ryan, however, minimized the risk for the $1.9 million in savings this year by releasing about 400 inmates who were not eligible for the half-sentence release. He said these people would have to be released to ICE 90 days later no matter what.
Anyway, Ryan said, most would be deported, though ICE could allow some to stay in this country, possibly because they have families here. But to ease legislative concerns, Brewer promised to work with lawmakers to enact stiff penalties for those who reenter this country illegally and commit new crimes.
• The governor said she is "restating'' her directive that state agencies provide benefits only to those in this country legally. That already is law, with the Legislature closing the last loopholes a month ago.
• She told state agencies to take money lawmakers gave them for special programs and instead use those funds for their core operations. Authorization to move around that cash, however, already was granted to agencies by the Legislature.
• Brewer wants "means testing'' for state programs to require a showing of need. But state agencies told Capitol Media Services that already is the case for virtually all of them, the one notable exception being services for the seriously mentally ill.
• The governor ordered a cap on enrollment in a program that provides subsidized child care for needy families. But that cap was put in place in April, with more than 10,300 already on a waiting list.
Separately, the governor directed the Department of Administration to prepare rules to allow a 5 percent cut in pay for state workers.
But gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said Brewer is not actually ordering such a move. Instead, she is paving the way for agencies to make those reductions authorized last week by the Legislature as options for state agency chiefs.
Brewer, who read solely from a script, refused to take questions afterward about the plan or why she didn't mention her demand for lawmakers to let voters decide whether to hike state sales taxes.
She also ignored a question of whether the open Cabinet meeting — the only one of her 11-month administration — was staged to burnish her image of being in command of the situation.
But there were political components to the event: In attendance were Grant Woods and Mary Peters, the co-chairs of her 2010 election bid, and Doug Cole, a hired political consultant to the campaign.
One thing made clear is that the state's finances are at a crisis point.
In a presentation to the Cabinet, John Arnold, director of the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, detailed the rising costs of running government.
Since 2004, the state has added nearly 145,000 students into public schools, boosting the price tag of running them by more than $1 billion.
The prison population in the same time has ballooned by 11,600 inmates, to more than 40,000. And enrollment in the state's free health care program is up 475,000 — including 207,800 in the last year alone — to nearly 1.3 million as of last count.
But cuts cannot be made to K-12 education — or universities, for that matter — because the state accepted federal education stimulus dollars. These require the state to repay that cash if funding drops below 2006 levels, which is where it is now.
And the state's acceptance of other stimulus dollars for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System prohibits altering eligibility requirements.
There is no prohibition against cutting prison costs. But lawmakers have refused to alter sentencing laws to reduce the length of terms that judges can impose.
One thing Brewer ordered Monday that is within her authority is prohibit any more families from enrolling in the Kids Care program. It provides nearly free health care to about 47,000 children of the working poor, those families earning too much to qualify for AHCCCS but below twice the federal poverty level, or about $36,620 a year for a family of three.
She also established a Privatization Commission, charged with finding ways to have outside firms do the work now being performed by state employees. Done properly, Brewer said, these outside contracts "will help the state reduce operational costs, improve service delivery and quality, and lead to innovation.''
Brewer also promised to bring together legislative leaders from both her own Republican Party as well as the minority Democratic Party. There were such talks this summer about resolving the budget until the Democrats said they were no longer invited.