The Arizona House of Representatives finished adopting a $6.4 billion budget late Wednesday as lawmakers wrapped up months of political bickering and tough choices to solve the worst fiscal crisis in state history.
The five-bill budget package narrowly passed with only Republican votes, a sharp contrast from Friday when the state Senate approved the same plan with strong bipartisan backing.
Two days of ceaseless, private negotiations failed to win the support of a single House Democrat or the most conservative Republicans. A coalition of GOP leaders and moderates said they had pushed as far as they could to prevent a $1 billion deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
"We haven't been through anything like this," said Rep. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler. "There was simply nobody to rely on. We were on an unknown journey and it has been difficult."
Speaker Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, tried to be more upbeat, saying they got the job done.
"I thank you for the hard work you've done, for giving in on the things that were dear to you, and for putting together what I think is a good, decent budget," Flake told his fellow Republicans as they headed to a vote.
The budget plan goes to Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who came into office in January saying the state could weather its fiscal problems without raising taxes but also without sacrificing programs for education, health care and services to the poor and the elderly.
Napolitano blasted earlier Republican plans that offered less spending as too drastic. The governor's tone has been more conciliatory since the Senate voted to spend about $400 million less than she proposed. But she gave no indication Wednesday night if she might veto parts of the budget package within five days as required by the Arizona Constitution.
"It's a far sight better than the first proposal we had," said Paul Allvin, a spokesman for the governor's office. "But we want and need the time to look through all the bills to make sure we haven't missed anything."
Speculation buzzed around the Capitol about the budget's fate when every House Democrat rejected it as still too painful, even though it provides nearly full funding for classroom education, protects the highest priorities in health care programs, and keeps separate offices for tourism and economic development.
"This simply did not go far enough to help Arizona families get back to work and to help the most needy among us," said Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix. "We're down to the bone in a bone-dry economy."
Several Democrats also were deeply angry that Republicans never held open negotiations with Napolitano on the budget problems.
"You would think that after all the vetoes you've gotten so far, you'd get the message there is a consequence to not being at the table," said Rep. John Loredo of Phoenix, the Democratic floor leader. "This is a joke. In the seven years I've never seen it take this long and I've never seen it done this recklessly."
The 2003 session has lasted 150 days, living up to expectations it would be one of the Legislature's longest and most rancorous in memory. Some Republican critics of the budget accused their colleagues of giving into fatigue instead of fighting to reduce the amount of borrowing and accounting gimmicks.
"This bill does not help our constituents," said Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale. "It does solve the fact that we're tired and we want to go home."
But lawmakers won't be leaving for several days. Leaders have agreed to hear several bills that had been held hostage for the last month by the budget impasse, including a $440 million plan for new university research laboratories and a $600 million expansion of the Phoenix Civic Plaza Center.
To win enough votes for the budget Wednesday night, House leaders also agreed to write a follow-up bill that will include a variety of budget and policy items. Critical issues include eliminating a proposed new policy to require people on the state Medicaid insurance program to reapply every six months, and allowing the state's community colleges to seek repayment of funds they would lose this year because the plan doesn't pay for additional student enrollment.
If Napolitano accepts the budget, several lawmakers said they also expect to return later this summer for a special session on an inmate overcrowding crisis in the state prison system. The Legislature didn't provide an extra $31.7 million in funding that the governor requested last month.