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Stopgap plan would keep Arizona government running

Key Arizona lawmakers are drafting emergency legislation that could be used to keep state government going temporarily even if a new budget isn’t approved in time – but not for all of state government nor for very long.

Gov. Jan Brewer and Republican legislative leaders have proposed a budget compromise, but the next fiscal year begins July 1 and the full Legislature has yet to approve a new budget.

The state has never had a full or partial shutdown for lack of a budget, and there is no mechanism currently in state law to keep the state government going without a budget.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Russell Pearce said Saturday he and his House counterpart are working on temporary spending legislation that likely would cover most of state government – possibly for a week – to avert a full shutdown.

Pearce said the temporary spending authority would then “ratchet down” to cover only selected critical services, such as state prisons and group homes for the disabled.

The authority could last up to 30 days, Pearce said.

Proposed shutdown plans drafted by state agencies give a glimpse of a stripped-down state government that would send thousands of employees home, leaving many offices closed and programs unstaffed.

For example, the plans have proposed sending home half of the Highway Patrol staff, suspending routine road maintenance and canceling visitation at state prisons.

However, Pearce said legislative authorization is needed for any continued spending.

“There’s no constitutional authority for the governor to continue government at any level if there’s no budget by July 1, and she knows that and we know that – or I assume she knows that – so there has to be a contingency plan,” Pearce said.

Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said constitutionally mandated services would be continued even without a budget “but it would be very, very limited.”

Senseman said some programs not mandated by the Constitution could use money from sources other than the state general fund.

“The prisoners will not be released,” he said when asked specifically about the Department of Corrections, which is not constitutionally mandated.

But, he said, “there is no doubt that a shutdown is devastating (and) would have a huge ripple effect on all kinds of issues and questions, and it needs to be avoided.”

Senseman said Brewer would explore the advisability of enacting temporary spending authority if it becomes necessary.

In the meantime, the governor and her staff are working toward legislative approval of the budget proposal, he said.

Pearce said the planned narrowing of spending authority over time is intended to keep the pressure on the state’s leaders to approve a budget.

He said draft legislation prepared in 2008 but not formally considered before a budget was approved is being used as a starting point for the new legislation, which he said could be broader.

The 2008 draft proposal would have provided one month’s funding for the departments of Public Safety, Corrections, Administration and Juvenile Corrections, as well as the state court system, the Treasurer’s Office and the state mental hospital.

It would have left out most of state government, including universities, social services, parks and the Revenue Department.

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