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House moves forward with budget discussion; Senate cancels again

Lawmakers in the House got their first look at budget bills today (May 4) and the package is scheduled for a vote in the Appropriations Committee on May 5.

The budget that will be put to a vote will have some differences from the draft proposal made public last week by Republican leaders. The two most significant changes will be to two of the most controversial aspects of the Republican budget proposal: taking money from cities and school districts.

Last week, the GOP budget draft proposed taking $300 million from school districts. The money had been appropriated in previous years, but had not been spent. Rep. John Kavanagh, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the new budget would clearly state that the goal of lawmakers was not to take money that could ultimately be used in schools.

"Only funds that they can't use (without special legislative permission) will be taken, and the first $40 million of that…we will give back to them for excess utilities funding, so it's a win-win," the Fountain Hills Republican said.

Until last year, the state ran a program that allowed some districts to levy a special tax on property owners to cover the cost of electricity for schools. When the program ended, schools were left without the funding that they had relied upon to pay utility bills.

Kavanagh also said there would be a change to a proposal to take $210 million of unspent development impact fees collected by cities. He said it would be a voluntary program in which cities would receive a short-term benefit – he did not specify details – by giving the state some of the excess money. Reforming the way cities collect and spend development impact fees also will be part of the

"I think, in fact, we'll probably have more than $210 million offered," he said.

The draft released last week included spending cuts of about $670 million, $400 million in fund sweeps and raising nearly another $670 million in non-tax revenue.

In the Senate, meanwhile, an Appropriations Committee hearing set for May 5 was cancelled. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray said they don't have a complete budget packet yet, and

Sen. Russell Pearce, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he plans to reschedule a hearing on May 7.

The House, though, is not waiting for the Senate. A House Appropriations Committee hearing has been set for 10 a.m. May 5 to consider the 10 budget bills.

"We're not Siamese twins," Kavanagh said.

Although the bills are set to be approved by a committee, Adams said additional changes are likely before the bills are ultimately approved by the Legislature.

"I'm sure the budget that comes out of Appropriations tomorrow will not be the one that (Gov. Jan Brewer) signs," he said.

House Minority Leader David Lujan said Democratic staff had not yet reviewed the budget bills, but he sharply criticized the draft released last week for cutting too much, especially to education.

-Capitol Times reporter Luige del Puerto contributed to this story.

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