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Lawmakers unveil plan to fix a $650 million gap in FY09

Republican leaders and Gov. Jan Brewer have apparently reached an agreement to fix a $650-million hole in the fiscal 2009 budget.

Under the plan, lawmakers will allow school districts to use $300 million of their so-called excess balances to cover ongoing expenses, apply $250 million in federal stimulus money and delay $100 million in university funding until fiscal 2010.

Earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee approved a budget for fiscal 2010 that included taking the excess balances from public schools. It is unclear how that funding will be replaced in the House budget if the money is instead used in fiscal 2009.

The Senate and the House Appropriations committees have scheduled meetings to hear the legislation May 13.

The goal is to send the budget fix to the governor's office for her approval by the end of the week.

Senators briefed on the plan said the legislation would authorize school districts to use their excess balances instead of having to cut deeper as a result of sliding revenue.

"It is the money that they had they accumulated outside of their authority to (spend)," said Sen. Russell Pearce, a Mesa Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "It is K-12 education money and we are going to use it for K-12 education to make sure that we mitigate any impact to our classrooms and our teachers."

Senate President Bob Burns said the proposal was worked out with the governor's office. Some Republicans in the House and Senate were still being briefed on the plan.

Rep. Andy Biggs of Gilbert said he is "not enthusiastic" about the proposed budget fix.

"But I can think of worse ways to do it," he said.

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