Republicans set to battle Napolitano

PHOENIX (AP) - Key Republican lawmakers said Friday they have no intention of bowing to Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano's agenda, despite her statements that her big re-election win gives her a mandate.

And one top Republican leader said illegal immigration - an issue that saw GOP lawmakers and the Democratic governor battle nearly the entire 2006 session - will again be prominent on GOP lawmakers' to-do list in 2007.

"If you don't know it's the most important issue in Arizona, you're living somewhere else," House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, said. "People want to see results and they want to see them now."

While Napolitano won re-election on Nov. 7 and Democrats had captured a still undetermined number of additional legislative seats as vote-counting continued Friday, Republicans maintained their majorities of both the House and Senate.

Napolitano's 27 percentage point win over Republican Len Munsil doesn't amount to a mandate for her own wish-list that includes expanding health care programs, because she ran on Republican priorities such as cutting taxes, improving the state's fiscal health and enhancing border security, Senate Majority Leader-elect Thayer Verschoor said.

"If that's the mandate, I can support that mandate," the Gilbert Republican told a legislative outlook conference sponsored by the Arizona Tax Research Association Friday.

Napolitano will face a tough fight if she proposes shortcuts to increase spending above revenue growth, a veteran GOP lawmaker who is the Senate's top budget-writer predicted. Revenue growth is slowing well below the glittery increases of approximately 20 percent recorded during each of the past two years.

The increase projected for the 4-month-old current fiscal year is expected to be approximately 8 percent, and the Legislature's budget director told the ATRA attendees that lawmakers won't have nearly as much money available for tax cuts or discretionary spending as they did a year ago.

Despite that, Napolitano and like-minded lawmakers likely will propose spending increases that outstrip the growth in revenue, said senate appropriations chairman Bob Burns, R-Peoria.

"There will probably be some what I would call 'creative financing' proposed" in response to pressure to free up dollars for spending, he said.

"That's a challenge that we need to meet head-on," Burns said.

Napolitano proposed borrowing and other fiscal maneuvers in previous budgets to prop up spending increases in education and other areas, but she has yet to telegraph any major spending initiatives or other elements of the budget proposal now being developed for release in January.

Lawmakers in 2005 rejected Napolitano's desire to continue borrowing to pay for new school construction and instead switched to spending cash for that costly program. Earlier this year, she ended up joining Republicans in supporting a major deposit of money into the state's rainy day fund, a reserve account virtually drained earlier to help keep state government in the black during the recession.

Legislative budget director Richard Stavneak declined to project how much extra money lawmakers will have available for discretionary purposes. But he told the conference that major revenue sources continued to record double-digit increases from a year earlier in early months of the 2006-2007 fiscal year that began July 1.

One forecasting model weighed by the legislative budget staff when it compiles a revenue estimate even projects an economy at recession levels, but most economists aren't that pessimistic, Stavneak said.

"They're saying it's going to be a pretty average year," Stavneak said, referring to the 2007 calendar year.