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Brewer mulling legality of taking city fees; third try for Senate Approps hearing

Republican budget proposals have been circulated at the Capitol for several days now, but lawmakers have cancelled three separate committee hearings during the past week intended to address the fiscal 2010 budget shortfall.

Now, Senate leadership has slated another Appropriations Committee hearing for May 5. But it's not exactly certain, based on the past week of postponements, whether it will actually occur as scheduled.

Senate Appropriations Committee meetings scheduled for April 23 and April 28, in which panel members were expected to vote on budget bills, were scuttled because Republican leaders had yet to round up the necessary votes in both chambers for full passage.

Senate President Bob Burns has said it does no good to advance the budget through committee if there isn't enough support to pass it on the floor.

Also April 28, a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations committees was called off. The hearing was expected to focus on a budget option that would decrease state funding for cities and towns in exchange for allowing the municipalities to use some development impact fees for daily government operations.

House budget leaders said they called off the joint meeting because a homebuilder group wasn't ready to make a presentation supporting the budget option. Others said they had not been told why the meeting was cancelled.

There are also questions about the legality of taking the money from cities.

"We certainly have been contacted by the cities, and they are concerned in regards to that," Gov. Jan Brewer said. "So, that's something that we're going to have to look at and take under advisement and see exactly what that impact is, and then again to see if it's even legal."

Lawmakers have also had some time to digest the budget proposals. Some Republicans see the most recent draft as a fluid document that isn't ready to be voted on, with changes needed in order to win enough votes.

"I think what you see on paper is far from where we are going to be," said Rep. Vic Williams, a Tucson Republican.

Rep. Rich Crandall, a Republican from Mesa, said some of the items in the budget are likely to change. For instance, a plan to take $300 million in excess school district funding is unrealistic, he said.

"There's not $300 million – not even close to that," he said. Crandall, who chairs the House Education Committee, said there was likely less than $100 million available for state use.

But other lawmakers said they anticipated complaints from cities and schools and said those concerns aren't enough reason to make significant changes to those parts of the proposal.

"It might be goring some oxes that some find unacceptable, but that's to be expected in this kind of environment," said Rep. Sam Crump, a Republican from Anthem.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Republican from Snowflake, said lawmakers will have to tweak the document, but the changes should be minor.

"We are working it and tightening the numbers," she said.

Other lawmakers, meanwhile, are calling on Brewer to take a more assertive role in the budget process. To date, she has given no indication about what specific items she would like in the budget, and some say time is running out for her to act.

There are only 36 working legislative days – the typical legislative work week is Monday through Thursday – before the fiscal year ends. Assistant House Minority Leader Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Phoenix, said she would like to see Brewer detail how she intends to spend the federal stimulus money.

"That creates a framework for a budget discussion," Sinema said. "It cuts down the places (in the budget) where you can screw around."

-Reporters Luige del Puerto and Jeremy Duda contributed to this story.

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