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Joint approps hearing cancelled at last minute

The House and Senate Appropriations committees were scheduled to meet jointly on April 28 to discuss a budget proposal to allow the state to sweep hundreds of millions of dollars from cities. But the hearing was cancelled at the last minute because, as at least one lawmaker put it, a homebuilders association was not prepared to give a presentation.

Rep. John Kavanagh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the Home Builders of Central Arizona needed more time to prepare arguments to support a provision in the budget proposal that would transfer to the state's general fund the money collected by cities in the form of development impact fees. The budget proposal was released publicly the day before.

"Because so many members really don't know all the details of impact fees, without that, it would not have been a productive meeting," Kavanagh said.

Still, many Senate Republicans said they had not been given an explanation for the cancellation.

Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican from Mesa, said he wasn't too concerned by the delay on that particular option in the 30-page budget document. He said he's never liked one-issue hearings.

"I don't mind having hearings," he said. "But if we are going to have a hearing on this, let us do this as part of the budget process."

The plan to sweep $210 million from the cities doesn't appear to be as popular in the Senate as it is in the House. In fact, Senate Republicans did not include the option to sweep impact fees in their draft budget; only the House did.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray said some legal questions remain.

"I don't think any decision has been made," Gray said.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns stands opposed to sweeping municipalities' impact fees. Ken Strobeck, the League's executive director, said the funds are already spent or committed to projects.

"I don't understand how that could be done legally," he said.

Strobeck said there are a lot of legal questions surrounding the budget option. For one, impact fees statutorily can only be used for public infrastructure to benefit the development where they are assessed, he said.

Strobeck added that the infrastructure funded by impact fees would still have to be built even if the fees were swept into the state's general fund. He said money to build the projects might have to be raised, possibly through additional local taxes.

But Republican lawmakers said if the Legislature decided to use the impact fees, they wouldn't affect funding for critical areas in cities.  

Pearce said he thinks it is a viable option, even though the Senate doesn't have the idea in its proposal. "My understanding is that this does not affect any of the critical issues in the cities," he said.


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