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Updated Jun 12, 2013 - 4:03 pm

Arizona lawmakers to pull budget all-nighter

PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature is on track to pull an all-nighter and
work into Thursday to finish a state budget and approve Medicaid expansion
despite outrage from conservative Republicans who have been cut out of the
process by a newly formed coalition of Democrats and GOP moderates.

Frustrated by delays during lawmakers’ regular session, Brewer called them into
a simultaneous special session late Tuesday. The moderates took over both
chambers by voting to suspend normal rules that require committee hearings and
will allow them to limit debate on the budget and Medicaid.

The Senate and House met Tuesday night to introduce a new package of budget
bills worked out in a deal with Brewer and the new majority coalition. They plan
to debate the bills and more than 50 hostile amendments from conservatives
starting Wednesday afternoon.

Although it appears they can’t get their amendments onto the bills,
conservatives they still vowed to battle.

“Hey, if they want a floor fight, I’m here,” Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra
Vista, said Wednesday. “I’ve got 10 years of Army training I haven’t used in a
long time.”

The Legislature is taking up the $8.8 billion Senate-approved budget but will
shift some money around. It will not include a big “economic development”
tax-cut plan House Speaker Andy Tobin wanted to add.

“We have a huge economic incentive in this budget _ it’s called Medicaid,”
democratic Minority Leader Chad Campbell said. “That’s a $2 billion economic
incentive program right there.”

Brewer acted after Tobin announced that lawmakers would wait until Thursday to
consider the budget bills and her contentious Medicaid expansion plan. The
Senate approved a budget nearly a month ago with the Medicaid expansion, over
the ardent opposition of GOP Senate President Andy Biggs and other conservative
Republicans.

“We’ve been waiting five months to complete work on Medicaid and the budget,
and it’s time to move forward,” Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said. “No more
game playing, no more stall tactics, no more gimmicks.”

After adjournment Tuesday, Biggs and Tobin released an angry statement ripe
with insults toward Brewer: “We are frustrated and bewildered by her overt
hostility and disregard for the budgetary process which was already well under
way.”

A calmer Tobin on Wednesday took some of the blame, saying he let his efforts
to change Brewer’s Medicaid proposal linger too long before dumping them.

“I probably should have reached a conclusion that my option for Medicaid was
not really being taken seriously a lot earlier,” Tobin said. “My mistake was I
probably overestimated that there was a chance to really come to an agreement on
the Medicaid that was more acceptable.”

Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, said the moderates had no choice but to act after
Tobin delayed action on the budget and Medicaid for weeks and then adjourned the
House until Thursday. With the Senate already planning to be off that day, and
state agencies needing funding in place before the budget year starts July 1, he
said the governor’s power was needed to get the Legislature to pass a budget.

“They can’t spend money they don’t have, so critical services could actually
fall prey to deliberate delay,” Robson said late Tuesday. “I don’t know what
else to call it when you shut down right smack in the middle of the most
important time. Every day matters with respect to essential services.”

House members railed about the special session after the Legislature was
summoned back to work Tuesday night.

Republican Rep. Adam Kwasman admonished Brewer on the House floor for refusing
to “wait two more days to pass Obamacare.”

“Shame on the members of this House and shame on the governor for calling this
session,” said Kwasman, of Oro Valley. “We will not stand for unnecessary
special sessions.”

At one point, members supporting the governor debated whether to replace Tobin
and Biggs with lawmakers who backed Medicaid expansion, but decided against it
after Biggs and Tobin indicated they would not block action during the special
session. Still, the debate underscored the shifting power dynamics in the
Legislature under Brewer’s maneuvering.

Brewer shocked many by announcing she was embracing a signature part of the
President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law in January after years
battling against it. She has support from the business community, hospitals,
health care workers and patients, but tea party groups that once rallied behind
Brewer’s candidacy have since labeled her a traitor.

The plan would add about 300,000 people to the state’s Medicaid plan, called
the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. It would cover people making
between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level and restore
coverage to more than 100,000 childless adults who lost Medicaid coverage
because of a state budget crunch. About 1.3 million Arizonans already are
covered by the state’s plan.

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