Negotiations on repairing a $2.5 billion hole in the state’s budget continued, but Gov. Jan Brewer remains excluded from the talks as Republican and Democrat lawmakers attempt to forge an agreement.
Legislative leaders of both parties met for the second time in as many weeks July 16 to discuss the scope of the state’s budgetary woes. And, as was the case in the first meeting a week earlier, Brewer was not involved.
Instead, a total of 12 lawmakers – the three leaders from both caucuses in the House and Senate – participated in a conference call to talk about the work their staffs had done since the last meeting. The next session is scheduled for July 20.
The Governor’s Office downplayed Brewer’s apparent non-involvement as lawmakers work to meet the governor’s stated goals for a balanced budget.
“I believe that the Legislature is definitely exploring whether they can reach some kind of consensus, now that they know where the governor stands,” said gubernatorial spokesman Paul Senseman.
Brewer has been meeting with leaders from both parties, Senseman said, and her staff has spoken with legislative staff. However, he didn’t know which lawmakers Brewer met with or what they discussed.
“I don’t know if she’s had actual, physical meetings with them, but she’s spoken with them by phone,” he said. “I know there’s been at least communication between them.”
But the Legislature appears to be moving ahead without the governor in an attempt to craft a bipartisan budget to replace the one Brewer vetoed July 1. House Assistant Minority Leader Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat, said the process is moving slowly, but progress is being made.
“We’re still at the beginning because we had no budget relationship for six months,” she said. “It’s like we’re in February, really.”
Of course, the timeline for getting a budget completed in the special legislative session is much different than in the recently completed regular session, mainly because the budget is being created for the current fiscal year, not one that hasn’t started yet.
The early stages of the negotiation will likely continue for the next week or so, Sinema said. She added that it may take until the final week of July before the negotiators have defined the broad strokes of what will be in the budget, at which point the two sides can start working on details.