May 20, 2004
A revolt of rank-and-file Republicans in the state House of Representatives meant likely passage of a $7.36 billion budget plan Wednesday that would include a promise to fund all- day kindergarten in every public school by 2010.
The House worked late into the night after a group of mostly moderate Republicans united with Democrats to push for a proposal similar to a plan adopted by the Senate two weeks ago.
"It is a responsible budget," said Rep. Mark Thompson, RTempe. "We realized that we have increased revenues, and we can go ahead and fund the programs that are necessary without borrowing any money and still balancing the budget."
House Republican leaders want to spend about $200 million less than the Senate plan. Speaker Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, refused to go to the floor for hours Wednesday while trying to bring party members back in line.
But the rebelling Republicans didn’t back down, saying they wouldn’t debate a budget that had no chance of approval from the Senate or Gov. Janet Napolitano.
The Senate plan and the new House alternative are largely favorable to Napolitano, offering employee pay raises and expanding state government by about 9 percent. Conservative Republicans have been fighting to scale back the plans because the proposed spending would exceed expected tax revenue by at least $300 million.
"This looks like candy money to me," said Rep. John Allen, RScottsdale, in a late-night Republican meeting. "If you met with the right people on this redink sheet, you got something for your district."
The outcome of Wednesday’s showdown means the Legislature likely won’t adopt Napolitano’s proposal for a five-year phase-in of state funding for all-day kindergarten.
The deal reached between rebelling Republicans and Democrats would provide $25 million next year for the state’s poorest schools, as Napolitano had requested. Instead of automatically expanding the program each year, the deal would instruct the Legislature to start working in 2005 to create a single, statewide plan.
Rep. Deb Gullett, R-Phoenix, said the compromise would provide additional time for lawmakers to determine the funding, an estimated $170 million to $200 million when fully implemented.
"As soon as we are done with this budget, we need to start figuring out a way to do this," said Gullett, whose district includes Paradise Valley.
Michael Haener, Napolitano’s chief lobbyist, said the governor would accept all-day kindergarten compromise.