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Arizona Legislature approves $9.2 billion budget

PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature approved a state budget Monday night
that set spending at $9.2 billion for the coming budget year after negotiating a
compromise on several issues that had hung up a final deal for weeks.

A committee composed of three senators and three representatives approved a
deal struck between Republican leaders of the House and Senate earlier in the
day after three weeks of back-and-forth that led to a stalemate last week.

Republicans who control both chambers supported the plan, even though for many
it spent too much money — more than $426 million above last year’s $8.8 billion

Minority Democrats in both chambers voted against the plan, with one exception,
Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, saying it spent too little on schools and higher
education and did not fund child welfare priorities such as preventive services
and child care subsidies they argued would help poor parents care for their
children while they work and avoid neglect situations.

Landrum Taylor, the Legislature’s only black member, managed to get $125,0 for
the Arizona Commission on African-American Affairs.

The deal that broke a weekslong logjam resolved the contentious sticking points
that have kept the two chambers and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s office from
reaching a deal. The approved plan keeps district charter schools running for
another year by funding them with $24.5 million, or 80 percent of the current
level. The Senate’s original budget would have completely defunded the schools
retroactive to last July 1, while the House one gave them $33 million.

The new deal also shed new funding for emergency dental, chiropractic and
podiatry services provided by the state’s Medicaid insurance program for the
poor but left in funding for insulin pumps. Other parts of the deal include more
funding for a technical career high school program.

“I like you guys, I respect you guys, but I gotta tell you, this budget is
lousy,” said Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson. “It’s all about the choices you
make, and we made some lousy choices.”

Republicans disagreed, calling the plan not a perfect one, but one that puts
the state on the proper fiscal footing, funds child welfare programs and schools
at a proper level.

“There are good things in this budget,” Speaker Andy Tobin said, ticking off
a list of items including new child welfare workers, $9.2 million for a new
veterans home in Yuma and $1 million to help the city of Prescott deal with
soaring state retirement fund assessments due to the deaths of 19 firefighters
last summer. “It’s not perfect. But it’s better for Arizona, it puts us on the
right track, puts us in a place where can continue to move forward.”

The bill now goes to Brewer’s desk for action. Her spokesman, Andrew Wilder,
said the governor’s staff has worked closely with the Legislature on the budget.

“And looking at it, we’re pleased with what appears to be a promising budget
proposal,” Wilder said. “Gov. Brewer will take her time to fully review the
proposal before deciding if it is something that she will sign.”

Senate President Andy Biggs and Tobin got together behind closed doors Monday
morning, and Brewer’s chief of staff, Scott Smith, also was engaged in the

The differences in the competing $9.2 billion spending plans for the budget
year that starts July 1 were relatively tiny at less than $30 million, so a
final deal came quickly but not without angst.

“I always believe that $20 million, if it was your and my money and we wanted
to throw it away that’s one thing,” Biggs said. “But if its taxpayers’ money,
$20 million is really money to me.”

The Senate and House had also disagreed on funding for the state’s child
welfare system. Brewer ordered the 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

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.

The House and Senate budgets were actually the same, but the House adopted
legislative intent language that would commit lawmakers to take another look at
the new agency’s funding when that report came out. Biggs rewrote it to commit
to a review once the agency was up and running — an unknown time frame.

The two sides agreed to a compromise that committed lawmakers to considering
additional funding at the same time as the new legislation is considered.

The Senate passed a budget three weeks ago that set state spending for the
coming budget year at $9.18 billion. It included a retroactive ban on school
district charter-school conversions and shorted Brewer’s planned child welfare
overhaul plan.

The House countered with a plan upping spending to $9.24 billion and including
$33 million to continue the district charters for another year.

The Legislature’s budget spends about $133 million less than Brewer requested
and does not make the $50 million deposit she wanted into the state’s rainy-day


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