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House passes budget — sends message but not bills to governor

All of the wrangling by Republicans in the Arizona House to pass a budget devoid of tax cuts will likely be for naught if Gov. Jan Brewer follows through on expectations and vetoes the spending plan.

But that doesn’t matter for many GOP legislators because the budget they passed was intended largely to send a message to the Republican governor that they don’t intend to accept her proposal for a tax increase.

The budget bills were approved June 4 — first by the Senate in the early morning and then in the evening by the House. But the measures may never reach Brewer’s desk. House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President Bob Burns said they won’t transmit the bills to the governor, and instead will sit down with her to hash out a budget deal that both sides support.

“We want to look for an opportunity to find a solution that the executive can greet with open arms. That’s our goal,” Adams said.

The 10 budget bills passed the House with 32 votes, all Republican. Three members of the majority caucus voted against the bills: Rep. Bill Konopnicki of Safford; Rep. Doug Quelland of Phoenix; and Rep. Vic Williams of Tucson.

Prescott Republican Lucy Mason also voted against two bills, one that dealt with the state’s higher education system and the other with health care issues. And Peoria Republican Tom Boone voted against a bill that governed provisions about state revenues.

Konopnicki said the budget was a raw deal for rural parts of the state that will see major reductions in service for health care, education and other vital services.

“This set of bills does terrible damage to the area I represent,” he said, adding later that the process to get the budget approved was “highly politically motivated and not in the interest of the residents of this state.”

Democrats, meanwhile, voted en masse against the bills in the House, which debated and voted on the $8.2 billion spending plan late in the evening. They criticized the spending cuts as too deep, the solutions to the roughly $3-billion shortfall as shortsighted and the tax cuts unwise.

“All we’ve done is make cuts. When are we going to realize we need to make revenue?’ said House Minority Whip Chad Campbell.

Democrats focused on the cuts to K-12 education, saying they would devastate public schools, which are already ranked 50th in the nation in funding by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

“This (budget)…is very reckless. It will jeopardize an already precarious situation for education,” said Tucson Democrat Daniel Patterson.

But Republican John Kavanagh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the cuts amount to 2 percent of the education budget, which is “hardly draconian, hardly the end of the world.”

“It’s a responsible, restrained cut in the middle of a fiscal crisis,” he said.

Democrats also attacked cuts to the state agency that collects taxes, environmental programs, public health care and social services.

They also refrained from offering any amendments in the House. Rep. Steve Farley, a Tucson Democrat, said that was because this budget “doesn’t count” and will be rejected by Brewer.

Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman was circumspect about how the governor would handle the bills, should they land on her desk. He said she is still reviewing the bills but did, however, express concerns with some aspects of the budget package, including plans to privatize the Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman, which houses the state’s death row, and sweep county and municipal funds.

“The governor has already voiced her concerns about that, her deep, grave concerns about hiding a tax increase by forcing cities and counties to make it,” Senseman said of the municipal fund sweep.

He also noted that counties, cities and the organizations that represent them have voiced their support for Brewer’s budget plan, which does not take impact fees or other money from those entities and relies instead on a temporary one-cent sales tax hike. He said bipartisan support has come from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, the County Supervisors Association, the Arizona Board of Regents and a multitude of cities and counties.

“We’re seeing a tremendous outpouring of support from a number of different leadership organizations,” he said.

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