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Bipartisan budget talks begin

House Speaker Kirk Adams (left) and Senate President Bob Burns (Photo by Bill Coates)

House Speaker Kirk Adams (left) and Senate President Bob Burns. (Photo by Bill Coates)

Legislative leaders from the two parties hunkered down July 8 to restart budget negotiations, marking the first meeting since the Legislature unanimously passed four budget bills two days before.

Those involved in the talks are the top three leaders of each caucus from each chamber. The meeting was largely about how the bipartisan talks would proceed, according to those who attended it.

“It was just organizational, if you will, a discussion of where to go from here,” House Speaker Kirk Adams said.

“(We) laid out what we are going to be able to talk about now and what things maybe we will wait to talk about,” said Senate Majority Whip Pamela Gorman. “I think both sides seem very interested in having productive, cordial discussions.”

The legislative leaders agreed to meet again next week.

The four-party talks represent a shift in strategy for majority Republicans, who shut out Democratic lawmakers from the budget negotiations during nearly the entire regular session. GOP lawmakers instead tried in the waning weeks of the regular session to work with Gov. Jan Brewer to draft a budget package she would sign.

The negotiators have a huge task ahead.

The Legislature approved a set of budget bills on July 6, one of which appropriated about $3.7 billion for education. With the governor’s signature of the four budget measures approved on July 6 and her veto of most of the budget passed on July 1, the state now has a $10-billion spending plan.

But the state is expecting to collect roughly $7.4 billion in revenue in fiscal 2010, which means the fiscal budget deficit stands at more than $2.5 billion.

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