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Arizona House sets 2nd vote on $9.2 billion budget

PHOENIX — The Arizona House of Representatives may try to pass a budget
again Tuesday after a previous effort failed because of opposition from backers
of child welfare and education.

The $9.2 billion state budget passed by the Senate appears likely to change
substantially as a handful of Republicans in the House try to get their concerns

That group of lawmakers sidetracked a vote Monday night after it became clear
that they could block passage. They met late into the night with Speaker Andy
Tobin, who was visibly frustrated they declined to sign off on the plan. The
meetings were continuing Tuesday.

The House met briefly Tuesday afternoon, then broke for more negotiations and
was set to return at 4 p.m.

“I think it’s safe to say the House members are all communicating, they’re all
talking,” Tobin said. “There’s big differences and big gaps as we all know,
but everyone’s still at the table _ and I think that’s what’s important.”

The members who blocked the vote 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 also were on
the table.

The budget the Senate adopted last week included only part of the $74 million
Gov. Jan Brewer wanted to set up a new child welfare agency and hire more than
400 new Child Protective Services workers, investigators and support staff.

The Republicans who broke with Tobin are pushing for funding closer to Brewer’s
initial request.

“I want to be a Republican that solves that issue,” said Rep. Bob Robson,
R-Chandler, who noted that not only money but setting up a new agency Brewer
wants is a priority. “We made promises to the people of the state of Arizona
that we would protect the children, and that’s something that we should be
doing. It’s not a blank check, but things should be reasonably placed so that
they can perform their jobs.”

Brewer ordered Child Protective Services pulled from its parent agency in
January and created a Cabinet-level post to oversee it after more than 6,500
uninvestigated abuse and neglect reports were revealed in November. A group of
lawmakers and others are working with Brewer’s staff to write legislation to
make that executive order permanent and expect to release it by May 1, although
it could come earlier.

House Appropriations Committee chairman John Kavanagh said Tuesday that Child
Protective Services hadn’t been left out of the Senate budget.

“It was understood they were getting a lot of money, and we weren’t sure they
could spend all that money, hire all those people in that time,” Kavanagh said
Tuesday. “And if after they expended that money they still had additional
needs, there was still next year. They had plenty of money to do what they
needed to do.”

The charter-school conversion issue involved a provision in the Senate-passed
version that would have blocked any conversions that happened after 2013.
Charter schools get more money per student, but backers of the roll-back argue
they also can tap voter-approved bond money and overrides and end up with more

Senate President Andy Biggs put the provision in the budget. He was pushing an
alternative plan in a separate Senate bill Tuesday to discourage charter-school
conversion when it appeared likely the House would strip out the provision.

“You’re looking at a really disparate finding issue _ that’s the first part of
it,” Biggs said. “No. 2, we simply don’t have the funds that would be

A developing House proposal would allow school districts to continue to convert
schools to charters, but place limits on the number.

Biggs had problems with that proposal as well. “It doesn’t solve the
problem,” he said.

The scene in the House Monday night left Tobin openly frustrated as it became
clear fellow Republicans would block the package of budget bills.

It remained unclear going into Tuesday afternoon’s session if a deal had been
cut. Even if it had, conservative Republicans in the House may not support it.

“If they want too much, then we lose votes on the other end of the scale and
we don’t have a budget,” Kavanagh said.

Biggs described the House budget process as out of control.

“It’s almost chaotic. There’s a lot of interests conflicting with each other
over there,” Biggs said. “Certainly I understand that there’s always going to
be issues on a budget. We were told the House needed certain things, and those
made it into our budget.”

“We were hopeful it would come out,” he added. “Right now it might be a
little bit difficult.”


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