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House panel approves key budget piece; much work remains

A House panel has given its approval to the main component of the budget agreement that GOP leaders negotiated with Gov. Jan Brewer, though the day’s work is far from over.

Among the work left for the committee to do is refer a temporary sales tax increase to the ballot in November, a critical component of the budget for Brewer and a tall order for many Republican lawmakers.

Rep. Andy Biggs, the vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, voted against H2643 because of the tax increase. Though it is not included in that bill, the Gilbert Republican said the $8.4 million it does provide for a special election makes the two measures connected.

Democrats joined Biggs in voting against the bill, though they did so for wildly different reasons. Though they also oppose the sales tax increase, they were more vocal in their opposition of the $630 million in spending cuts in the budget, including $220 million to education.

“I thought that, three weeks ago…that budget was pretty bad. I didn’t think it could get any worse, but, I have to say…this did,” said Assistant Minority Leader Kyrsten Sinema. “These cuts are just incredible. I just see this as being the worst possible solution to this problem.”

And Matt Heinz, a Tucson Democrat, said it was a shame that Democrats were not included in the budget planning. As a result, he said, Arizonans will suffer.
“I think the entire state is getting really hosed by this budget,” he said.

The Appropriations Committee approved H2643 by a 7-5 vote. It has a dozen budget measures on the agenda for today’s meeting, which was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., but did not get underway until about 11:30.

The House is preparing to debate and vote the budget on the floor later today. The Senate, meanwhile, has not scheduled identical bills introduced in that chamber for committee work or floor action.

It is unclear if Republican leaders in the House have the support needed to approve the bills on the floor. The main hang up appears to be the ballot referral for a sales tax increase, as many conservative lawmakers have insisted all year that a tax increase not be included as a budget solution.

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