State lawmakers give final OK to budget - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

State lawmakers give final OK to budget

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Posted: Thursday, June 4, 2009 7:25 am | Updated: 1:14 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

State lawmakers gave final approval Thursday night to their plan to balance the budget. But they won’t be sending it to Gov. Jan Brewer — at least not yet.

State lawmakers gave final approval Thursday night to their plan to balance the budget.

But they won’t be sending it to Gov. Jan Brewer — at least not yet.

The House action Thursday evening came without a single Democrat in support, just as the vote earlier in the day in the Senate.

But Senate President Bob Burns acknowledged that the plan, at least in its current form, is unacceptable to Brewer.

So, at least for the time being, Burns wants to use the package of spending cuts, fund raids, use of stimulus dollars and borrowing as a starting point for a new round of talks with the governor — talks he hopes eventually will convince Brewer to give up her demand that lawmakers approve a temporary tax hike or face a veto.

“We need this as a leverage to negotiate,” he said.

“We need to show (the governor) we’ve got the votes and we can put a bill on her desk,” he continued. “And then, I would hope, she would be willing to negotiate.”

Burns acknowledged he and House Speaker Kirk Adams have been meeting with the governor for months.

But he said it hasn’t been very productive.

“We haven’t had a lot of interaction relative to a package,” he explained. “She’s had her package, we’ve had ours.”

Sen. Meg Burton Cahill, D-Tempe, said the decision by the GOP majority to push ahead despite a threatened veto amounts to “playing a game of chicken” with the governor.

“The sad thing is, is that it’s the people of Arizona that are going to lose out in this game,” she said.

Brewer herself told Capitol Media Services she doesn’t understand what Burns wants to do.

“I’ve been at the table four months now to try to come up with a balanced budget,” she said. And Brewer chided the GOP leaders for the way they’ve handled the process so far.

“I don’t really know what they’ve got in their budget,” she continued. “They never shared that with me,” adding that she only gets “bits and pieces.”

And the governor pronounced herself stumped by the decision not to send her the already-approved plan. “I’ve never seen a game plan like that since I’ve been an elected official,’’ she said.

The package contains more than $630 million in spending cuts designed to bridge what GOP legislative leaders say is a $3 billion gap — Brewer puts it at $4 billion — between revenues and expenses this coming year.

That includes a controversial and potentially illegal move to keep basic state aid to schools at current levels rather than following a statutory formula that the Arizona Attorney General’s Office says is mandatory.

Another $1.1 billion would come from federal stimulus dollars.

Much of the rest of the plan would be filled with changes in state policies that proponents argue will save money.

What it does not include, though, is that temporary 1-cent sales tax hike Brewer demands instead of deep spending cuts.

In fact, the GOP plan even permanently repeals the currently suspended state property tax, a levy Brewer wants to bring back, at least briefly.

Brewer also is unhappy with some other tactics used to balance the budget.

One results in less funding to state universities.

Brewer’s problem here, though, is she believes the change violates a requirement for the state to maintain funding for universities at current levels, endangering more than $1 billion in federal stimulus aid.

Another would force cities and counties to give some of their share of state vehicle license tax proceeds to schools.

That, in turn, would reduce the state’s financial obligation to schools by $95 million.

She also questions another provision which, at least on paper, is designed to get the state some immediate cash.

It is based on the premise that private companies would pay $100 million upfront for the right to run state prisons — and get paid by the state for housing inmates — for the next 50 years.

“It doesn’t work,” said Brewer’s press aide, Paul Senseman.

He said while some firms operate their own private prisons, no company has been willing to pay money upfront to take over operations of a state-owned facility.

The governor also is not supporting a potentially illegal provision to limit state aid to schools.

A ballot measure approved in 2000 hiked the state sales tax by six-tenths of a cent to fund teacher pay hikes and other education programs.

It also requires lawmakers to boost state aid by the rate of inflation.

GOP lawmakers, however, are interpreting the words to say they need only increase any element of state aid, not all of it.

So their budget increases only the portion to pay student transportation costs, a difference of about $100 million.

Some controversial provisions involve relatively little money.

One would require welfare recipients to submit to drug testing if the Arizona Department of Economic Security believes the person uses illegal drugs.

Senate staff attorney Joni Hoffman told legislators that a federal judge in Michigan struck down an identical provision in that state’s laws as an illegal search.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, said people who seek financial help from the government don’t have the same rights to refuse drug tests as those who are not getting benefits.

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