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Senate Stalls On GOP Budget

As the Senate tries to work out a compromise on the fiscal 2004 budget, House members unexpectedly found themselves sitting on the sidelines.

During a marathon of bargaining and bickering that ran nearly 24 hours from the morning of May 15 to the wee hours of May 16, the House hammered out a budget that calls for $6.2 billion in spending.

And, flushed with victory, House Republicans, who got as many as 39 votes on most of the budget bills, expected the Senate to follow suit later on May 16.

Some Republican conservatives were even suggesting they might be able to put together the 40 House votes needed to override a potential veto by Governor Napolitano.

One of the Republicans’ first acts during the floor session was to override Ms. Napolitano’s veto on H2378, which would have precinct committeemen rather than county supervisors fill legislative vacancies in Maricopa and Pima counties. The vote was 40-19, with Rep. Sylvia Laughter, I-Dist. 2, joining the Republicans.

The maneuver was apparently meant as a warning to Ms. Napolitano.

But, the Senate did not approve the budget later on May 16. The Senate, it turns out, is stuck at 15 possible votes for the budget — one less than is needed for passage and five short of enough for a veto override.

So, the massive effort marshaled by House Republican leaders over two days has apparently gone for naught.

Not Entirely Dormant

“All we can do is wait to see what happens over in the Senate,” said Rep. Bob Robson, R-Dist. 20, the House speaker pro tem.

The House is not entirely dormant. The “Cellar Dwellers,” a group of mainly moderate Republicans who held out late into the night of May 15 before deciding to go along on the budget, are busy putting together budget changes they would like to see.

May 15 began with what turned out to be a non-event. The 9:30 a.m. House Republican caucus was canceled. Leaders were in negotiations with the “Cellar Dwellers.”

Earlier in the week, leaders had struck a deal with conservatives who bolted after the House vote on H2529, which provides the universities with a funding mechanism to build research facilities.

Now, they needed the votes of the “Cellar Dwellers,” who may have had their genesis in the “Mushroom Coalition” that held out in 1999 for more education funding. The solidarity of the “Cellar Dwellers,” who met regularly in the House basement, eroded as the day wore on.

Finally about 9 p.m., the deal was struck, and it had the blessing of Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Dist. 1.

The deal did not change the bottom line of the proposed spending, but it gave the judiciary a lump sum rather than a detailed line-item budget. The only other entities to receive lump sum budgets are the Governor’s Office, the House and the Senate.

Most of the other concessions made to the “Cellar Dwellers” involved changing items in the omnibus reconciliation bills from permanent law to session law.

One “Cellar Dweller” — Rep. Pete Hershberger, R-Dist. 26 — did not go along with the deal and voted against all the budget bills.

Finally, the Republican caucus met at 9:35 p.m.

“We’re right on time,” quipped Rep. Randy Graf, R-Dist. 30, the House majority whip. “We announced the caucus would be a 9:30 after [the] Rules [committee meeting].”

During the caucus, Republicans were informed that House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth, R-Dist. 22, would be introducing amendments during floor debate to make changes to the budget bills to accommodate the deal.

The floor session started shortly after 11 p.m. Rep. Wally Straughn, D-Dist. 15, promptly moved that the House adjourn until 10 a.m. so it would not be considering the budget “in the dead of night.”

Ream Of Amendments

It was only the first of many unsuccessful Democratic moves to delay the inevitable.

Democrats had a ream of amendments prepared for the five budget bills — H2531 through H2535 — but they quickly saw the futility of their endeavor. Mr. Farnsworth’s amendments were the only ones being approved.

In the end, the Democrats offered only 12 amendments, but they fought long and hard on those.

They waged parliamentary procedure battles. In one, Rep. Debbie McCune-Davis, D-Dist. 14, and Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Dist. 16, complained that Mr. Farnsworth’s amendment for H2533 was not a single-subject amendment. Mr. Miranda demanded the amendment be returned to the House Rules Committee.

After a huddle with House Chief Clerk Norm Moore, who is House parliamentarian; Jim Drake, House Rules attorney; and David Gass, the minority counsel, Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Dist. 21, who was chairing the debate on H2533, announced that the Rules attorney had reviewed the amendment and said there was no case law saying the amendment was unconstitutional.

Mr. Miranda then demanded a roll call vote on the chairman’s decision. Mr. Nichols was upheld, 39-19.

Following the debate, the House immediately held a final vote on all the bills. With the exception of H2532, the bills got 39 votes. H2532 got 38 because Rep. Marian McClure, who was ill, was off the floor momentarily.

During the vote on each bill, Mr. Straughn delivered a speech criticizing Republican leadership for holding the vote “in the dead of night.” His speech ended urging Ms. Napolitano to veto the budget and “force the Republican-controlled Legislature to allow the people of Arizona to see this budget before it becomes law.”

The House adjourned about 4 a.m. on May 16, and House Republicans went home thinking they had the budget under control. —

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