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Updated Mar 24, 2014 - 9:55 pm

Arizona House delays vote on $9.2 billion budget

PHOENIX — The Arizona House of Representatives on Monday failed to reach a
budget deal after hours of tenuous discussions and a called off vote that left a
frustrated Speaker Andy Tobin huddled with members of his own party who refused
to back a plan he endorsed.

Tobin had scheduled debate and votes Monday afternoon on the $9.2 billion
spending plan for the coming budget year approved by the Senate last week. But
as the day dragged on it became clear he was having trouble getting enough
votes. House members spent hours waiting for him to call them into session.

When the House finally returned Monday night after a nearly six-hour delay, it
was in session for less than an hour before Tobin called a recess during debate
on the health and welfare portion of the budget. He called a group of members
who objected to the budget into his office, and at 9 p.m. the chamber recessed
for the night.

The House plans to return Tuesday morning.

The Republicans who broke ranks included most of the group that backed Gov. Jan
Brewer’s Medicaid expansion last year. They were led by Rep. Heather Carter,
R-Cave Creek, who earlier in the day lashed out at the budget proposal and the
lack of House member input.

“This process and what’s in it is just a mess,” Carter said.

The budget plan passed the Senate on a party-line vote with majority
Republicans backing the plan authored by Senate President Andy Biggs.

But some House Republicans were upset because the budget plan excluded their
priorities. And others complained privately that Tobin hadn’t asked them if they
supported the plan.

Carter declined to provide details of her concerns, but she offered a series of
amendments that would have restored health services cut after the 2009 budget
crisis. She withdrew them all, saying she wanted a discussion “on the larger
budget,” and it became clear Tobin didn’t have the votes.

“It’s a lack of leadership, entirely,” said Rep. Adam Kwasman, R-Oro Valley,
who is running in the Republican primary against Tobin for a congressional seat.
“This is like an airline flight that got canceled before we took off.”

Other problems with the Senate plan included less money that Brewer wanted to
overhaul the state’s broken child welfare system and not enough highway money or
cash for water infrastructure.

Several members said the biggest issue was a retroactive ban on public school
districts converting schools to charter schools that was included in the
Senate-passed budget. Districts get more per-student funding for charters.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the package of nine bills Monday
morning along party lines, and the full House is set to take it up the bill in
the afternoon. Committee Chairman Rep. John Kavanagh said last week that he was
encouraged by the ease with which the budget came out of the Senate and the
governor’s support for most of the package.

Brewer’s chief of staff, Scott Smith, said last week that there was still one
major sticking point and several smaller ones keeping her from fully supporting
the plan. Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said Monday those concerns still exist.

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