It’s been more than three weeks since lawmakers were called into a special legislative session to patch a massive hole in the budget, but there are finally signs that negotiations may be bearing some fruit – on two fronts.
Senate President Bob Burns said Republican leaders have reached “tentative agreements” on certain issues with legislative Democrats, but they are also working with the Governor’s Office.
“We are working in parallel lines,” Burns said. “If one falls apart, you have to go to the other.”
Republican leaders in both the House and Senate began meeting with their caucuses in small groups July 27 to update them on the progress made in the bipartisan budget talks. And lawmakers will also be returning to the Capitol on July 29, breaking the pattern of only meeting once a week that had been the status quo for the special session.
Republicans are working on a budget proposal that would ease restrictions on voter-approved spending and put a sales tax increase on next year’s ballot.
GOP legislative leaders have shared the proposal with the governor, but Democrats have yet to see the details.
And on July 27, the Senate introduced 12 bills, which presumably will become vehicles for that proposal.
“I can tell you that basically the five-point plan is what is being implemented,” said Senate President Bob Burns, referring to Gov. Jan Brewer’s call for a sales tax increase. “The details that we have worked out are still being talked about.”
For instance, Burns said, some members are pushing to repeal the $250-million state equalization property tax.
Regarding a timetable for the special session, House Majority Leader John McComish said a budget deal may be struck within days.
“We may be doing something later this week,” he said.
Senate Minority Whip Linda Lopez, meanwhile, told caucus members she heard that Republicans have a budget bill and their plan is to push it through by the end of the week.
But House Speaker Kirk Adams was less optimistic, though he noted the talks with Democratic leaders “have picked up steam.”
“We’ve given ourselves the opportunity to do something before the end of the month, should the opportunity arise,” Adams said.
Whether anything happens will likely depend on the response of Republican lawmakers, Adams said. He added that another purpose for meeting with members was to determine whether it will be possible to get supermajorities – 40 votes in the House, 20 in the Senate – for a deal with the Democrats.
Securing supermajorities would effectively allow lawmakers to craft a budget without negotiating a deal with Gov. Jan Brewer because they would have enough votes to override any vetoes.
Brewer has been calling for a ballot measure that would allow voters to determine if the sales tax should be increases by a penny for three years to deal with the massive deficits plaguing the state budget this year and in the near future. But the idea has been opposed by both Republican and Democrat lawmakers.
“I would imagine that the budget and the BRBs will get out of the Senate, but the referral is not going to get out of the Senate,” said Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia. “Maybe they feel that they have some of our ‘D’ (Democratic) votes. But I have checked, and they don’t have any of our votes.”
Adams and Senate President Bob Burns both met with the governor on July 27. Neither would comment on the talks, though Adams said he expected to continue meeting with her.
There were 40 lawmakers present in the House and 23 in the Senate when the special session convened.
-Reporter Jim Small contributed to this story.