Gov. Brewer's latest legal fight could cost taxpayers more than it saves

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer says she's doing it to save money.

But her legal fight to strip same sex partners of health benefits could end up costing taxpayers more than it saves.

Earlier this week the governor asked the United States Supreme Court to step in and take away benefits from same sex couples who work for the state.

It's unknown right now if the high court will take the case. But if they do, the legal bills could end up costing more than it would to continue giving health care to same sex couples.

According to the Arizona Department of Administration, 233 gay state and university employees get benefits for themselves and their partners at a cost of $1.8 million per year.

That's less than the $3 million it cost to defend SB 1070, which ended up in the Supreme Court. However, most of that money for that case was paid by private donors who gave to a legal defense fund.

It’s unknown how much the state has spent on the current case, those numbers won't be released until sometime next week, according to the Arizona Attorney General's office.

But the possibility that the legal fees could skyrocket has some Arizona leaders wondering if the move makes sense financially. Former state Sen. Ken Cheuvront says the move will end up hitting the taxpayer more.

"Financially it just doesn't cut the cake because if it just does cost $1.8 million and the lawsuit could be several million dollars to take it up to the Supreme Court its costing us more to go forward than it is costing costs us to go ahead and pay for this program," Cheuvront said.

The former Democratic lawmaker, who is openly gay, led the push for then Gov. Janet Napolitano to extend benefits to all domestic partnerships four years ago.

Officials with the governor's office on Wednesday said this issue was more about states’ rights than it was about money. Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the governor, did say, "Where I come from, $2 million is not an insignificant amount of money."

However, the governor herself said this week money was a big reason she wanted to take health care benefits away from gay couples.

"I was faced with the hugest budget deficit Arizona has ever faced," Brewer told reporters Monday morning. "So when we were trying to come together to get our budget balanced that was one are of which we could go in and address."

Napolitano originally issued an executive order in 2008 giving benefits to all state employees in domestic partnerships, including heterosexual couples. In 2009, Napolitano left for a job in President Barack Obama's administration, leaving Brewer in charge of the state.

Brewer and the GOP-controlled legislature then revoked the executive order only to have the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstate most of it.

The court ordered Arizona to give benefits to same sex couples in domestic partnerships but not heterosexual couples. The reason, according to the court, was straight couples could choose to get married if they wanted too, while homosexuals could not.