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Arizona House OKs revised $9.23B state budget

PHOENIX — After days of wrangling between
Republican factions, the Arizona House on Thursday evening adopted a $9.24
billion state budget that made changes to a plan passed by the Senate.

House Speaker Andy Tobin appeared relieved when it became clear that a deal had
been struck with fellow Republican members who were pushing for more
child-welfare and education spending after days of negotiations.

The House passed the first of nine budget bills on a voice vote about 6 p.m.,
then recessed briefly. Minority Democrats then forced roll-call votes on a
series of failed amendments they wanted to add.

But Tobin powered the House through the other eight and then called final
votes. The nine budget bills passed mainly on party-line votes, with all but
from one to three Republicans in support. No Democrats supported the spending
plan.

The House passed the last bill at about 11:30 p.m.

The Senate plans procedural action Friday on the House package, with debate and
votes set early next week. If they adopt the House plan unchanged it goes to
Gov. Jan Brewer, although changes are quite possible.

The revisions to the $9.18 billion budget adopted by the Senate last week add
an additional $54 million in spending, bringing the total to $9.24 billion.

The additions include $33 million to keep about 60 new district charter schools
running for another year, an additional $3 million for child welfare and $2.5
million for the University of Arizona. Rep. Ethan Orr said the money could help
it start a planned veterinary school.

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.

“It was late, things were moving and then they stopped. They were moving and
then they stopped,” Tobin said. “People were wanting to come on, they were
wanting to wrap it up. It’s just a painstaking process.”

Democrats were mainly on the sidelines in the negotiations and had no ability
to add to the budget during debate. Their efforts to add millions for child
welfare programs, student aid and state forestry were rebuffed.

“It doesn’t go far enough by any means,” Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, the
minority leader, said of the budget. “It doesn’t fund education, it doesn’t
fund infrastructure, but most notably it does not fund CPS. And we all talk
about what a big deal CPS was and how important it was this year, and yet this
budget does nothing to fix CPS.”

With 31 votes needed for passage, and 36 Republicans in the House, the six GOP
opponents had the ability to block the plan before the deal was struck.

Rep. Bob Robson, one of the six Republicans who blocked a deal, worked most of
the week to cut a deal.

“Some of my concerns were addressed, but in a spirit of compromise and the
ability to be able to move the process forward I’m supporting the budget,” said
Robson, of Chandler. “I hope some of those concerns can be addressed in the
Senate.”

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

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.

In the end, all but Orr voted for the plan.

“I don’t feel that I can vote for this budget,” Orr said before the final
votes started. “I hope that the Senate continues to work with us to add things
that will made education and child safety better.”

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, he said their status will be
reviewed.

Carter, however, said after next year those schools will have to revert back.
She voted no on the education part of the budget.

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 is 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.

The deal also restores funding for low-income medical services like podiatry
and emergency dental care and insulin pumps for adults that were during the
budget crisis several years ago.

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