PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer entered her sixth and final year as Arizona's chief executive in January with a goal of finishing her remake of the state's business-tax structure, overhauling its scandal-ridden child welfare system, enacting a budget that funded priorities while ensuring it became balanced in three years, and pushing a major expansion of broadband Internet service for public schools.
The Republican governor was successful on 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.
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 reevaluate. 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."
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."
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."