PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer will lay out her Legislative goals for the coming year on Monday when she delivers what is likely her final State of the State address.
The speech on the opening day of the 2014 session is her chance to set her agenda for fixing Arizona's child welfare system, boosting education and economic development and outlining spending priorities in the state budget. Brewer is known as a strong-willed executive who is largely successful in getting her priorities, so the speech serves as a roadmap for items the Legislature historically has adopted.
Last year's address contained a bombshell that shocked many fellow Republicans: Brewer's decision to embrace a key part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, Medicaid expansion. After a battle with Republicans who control the Legislature, she cobbled together a coalition of Democrats and a handful of Republicans and got the measure adopted. About 300,000 more Arizonans are now eligible to sign up for the free health insurance plan for low-income residents.
Republican opponents are challenging the laws in court, but both Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin said Friday that the issue is essentially finished for the Legislature pending a court decision.
Education reforms, including performance funding for schools, and fixing the state's Child Protective Services department are repeats of themes she pushed last year. The Legislature turned away most of her performance funding plan but she hinted in an interview with The Associated Press last week that she's not given up on the plan, which will maintain current per-student funding but add extra money for schools that excel.
CPS reform also was a key component of last year's speech, when she touted an overhaul of the state's child and abuse hotline reporting system and sought (and later received) funding for 200 more CPS workers.
But a scandal that erupted in November has dimmed her hope that the reforms she put in place actually fixed the system. That's when a new law enforcement office inside CPS discovered that more than 6,500 abuse and neglect reports had not been investigated. An incensed Brewer ordered a state police investigation and created an outside team to review the cases and suggest further reforms.
She may not be ready to announce what reforms she's seek, but several key lawmakers and others have suggested pulling CPS out of its parent agency, the Department of Economic Security, would be one major step they want to see happen.
The governor also may reveal just what additional economic incentives she will push this session in her ongoing effort to draw new businesses to Arizona and help existing firms expand.
Brewer is in the final year of her first full term in office. But because she served part of another term after former Gov. Janet Napolitano took a Cabinet post in the Obama Administration in 2009, she's in her second term and can't run for a third unless she challenges a provision in the state constitution that limits governors to two terms. Legal experts say that a longshot, but Brewer has declined to say if she plans to try to run again, instead promising a decision in February.