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Updated Mar 27, 2014 - 5:00 pm

Arizona House tweaking budget before vote

PHOENIX — A state budget deal appeared nearly complete Thursday as the
Arizona House primed for a debate on proposed changes to a plan passed by the
Senate that could drag late into the night.

The latest revisions to the $9.18 billion budget would add an additional $54
million in spending, House Appropriations Committee chairman John Kavanagh said.

Spending is now at $9.24 billion with the addition of $33 million to keep about
60 new district charter schools running for another year, a small increase in
child welfare spending and other items.

Negotiations continued in the office of House Speaker Andy Tobin.

A group of six Republicans had blocked a deal Monday and negotiated with GOP
leaders through the week to add child welfare and education spending. They
walked out of talks Wednesday, accusing House leadership of acting in bad faith,
and held an impromptu news conference in the Capitol press offices.

That appeared to break the logjam, and talks resumed Thursday.

Rep. Bob Robson, one of the six Republicans who blocked a deal, had no comment
other than saying he remained hopeful.

Early in the day, Kavanagh showed no signs of offering more spending when the
nine-bill budget package is eventually put to a vote.

“We made adjustments to deal with their concerns, we moved towards their
position and they rejected it,” Kavanagh told The Associated Press. “They
didn’t believe we went far enough, but to go their distance we lose half the
Republican caucus.”

Democrats are mainly on the sidelines in the negotiations. With 31 votes needed
for passage, and 36 Republicans in the House, the six GOP opponents could block
the plan.

The six members were most concerned about two issues: Funding for a new child
welfare agency and a provision retroactively stopping school districts from
converting schools to charters. Several other issues were on the table,
including additional money for the University of Arizona and for K-12 education.

The six Republicans pushing for more money for Child Protective Services and
education include some who broke ranks last year and teamed with Democrats to
back Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan. Along with Dial and Robson, they
are Kate Brophy McGee, Heather Carter, Ethan Orr and Doug Coleman.

The education issues are centered on school districts converting schools to
charters. The Senate-passed version would have rolled back conversions done in
the past year.

Kavanagh said the $33 million would continue extra payments for about 60
district schools for one year. After that, their status will be reviewed.

Charter schools get more money per student, but backers of the rollback argue
the campuses also can tap voter-approved bond money and overrides and end up
with more money. Supporters of charter conversions say the extra money lets
districts focus on innovative education and improve student performance.

Child Protective Services would get only about $3 million more than called for
in the Senate-passed plan, However, there also would be a guarantee that when an
overhaul plan is finalized in the coming months, the House could return in a
special session to provide additional funding.

___

Follow Bob Christie at http://twitter.com/APChristie

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