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House, Senate adjourn; Budget vote stalls again

***UPDATED AT 4:15 P.M.***

Senators seemed poised to bring the budget bills to the floor on Aug. 11, but instead adjourned for the day after meeting for less than a half-hour.

The vote on the budget was shelved because several members were missing, including a Scottsdale lawmaker whom legislative leaders were hoping to persuade to vote for a referral for a sales tax increase.

The delay means it will be too late to put the sales tax referral, and two other referrals included in the budget package, on the ballot for the Nov. 3 election.

Senate President Bob Burns said lawmakers are discussing moving the election date to sometime in early December.

“I think Nov. 3 may have slipped beyond us. I think it has,” he said.

(Secretary of State’s Office says it’s too late for Nov. 3 ballot referral. To see full story, go to http://azcapitoltimes.com/blog/2009/08/11/no-tax-vote-on-nov-3/)

Meanwhile, the House also met for a few minutes before adjourning for the day.

House Speaker Kirk Adams said lobbying efforts to round up support for the proposed split “went pretty well,” but many members are holding their breath to see what comes out of the Senate.

“There were still concerns, and I couldn’t at this point guarantee that we’ll have 31 votes,” Adams said. “But I can say the vast majority of the members understand that the package is still intact.”

Adams said House leadership essentially is “waiting to see” what the Senate does. “It’s hard for House members to react to a product that hasn’t been sent over here yet,” he said.

Sen. Carolyn Allen, a Republican from Scottsdale, was among those who were absent from the Senate Aug. 11. Allen has a knee injury and is under doctor’s orders to rest at home.

“She is struggling with health issues and I don’t know when she will be around,” said Sen. Steve Pierce, the acting majority whip.

Reached on the phone, Allen’s had little to say:

“I am not well. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I am not coming. That is all you need to know,” she told the Arizona Capitol Times.

Two of the 18 Republicans in the Senate have said they would vote “no” on the sales tax hike, which means Allen’s support is crucial. Without her, the Senate won’t have 16 Republicans to pass the budget deal.

If that were the case, Burns would have a few options. One is to convince individual Democratic senators to support the budget deal. The other option is to go back to the negotiating table with the Democratic caucus.

“I have talked to at least one or two Democrats, yes,” Burns said. He refused to name anyone.

Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia confirmed that Burns has been talking to individual minority members, but he said he doesn’t think Republican leaders will succeed in courting minority votes.

“It is an ugly bill,” Garcia said. “The bottom line is that our members recognize that if you raise a billion dollars and give $650 million away, you haven’t solved the problem.”

Garcia said he has advised members early this session that if they voted for a Republican budget plan, they should make sure that their constituents are “well-compensated.”

The minority leader said with the way things are going, Republicans will eventually have to negotiate a final solution to the fiscal 2010 budget with the Democratic caucus.

On Aug. 10, a Senate panel voted 6-3 to approve amendments that split the sales tax hike and the tax cuts, and placed them in separate bills in an effort to get the elusive 16th vote to pass the entire budget deal that legislative leaders and Gov. Jan Brewer had hammered out.

Sen. Amanda Aguirre, a Democrat from Yuma, called it a “sad day for public education.”

“Politically speaking, this bill is not going to have the tax cuts in it needed to provide cover for the members who have a hard time explaining that it was still one complete tax reform package,” said Sen. Jack Harper, a Republican from Surprise. “Some of the less established freshmen in the House may have a hard time explaining it to their constituents that this was part of the deal.”

Harper was referring to H2015, which was amended so that it now only includes the referral for a sales tax hike, a suspension of protections for voter-approved spending and a cap on state spending.

Sen. Russell Pearce, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, maintained it’s basically the same package — only the format was changed.
Meanwhile, Steve Voeller, president of the conservative policy group Arizona Free Enterprise Club, urged the Legislature to pass the tax package that’s now on the table.

“Conservatives should know how difficult it is to achieve meaningful tax cuts. These tax cuts are significant, helpful to the long term growth of the economy, and effectively permanent,” Voeller said, adding the Legislature is just a vote away from doing “more for the economy than anyone imagined when the session began.”

Under the amended proposal, H2007 now contains the provisions to repeal the state equalization property tax and reductions to individual and corporate income taxes.

The most recent changes were aimed at getting the votes of Allen, who has indicated in the past that she would support the tax hike but would oppose to the tax cuts, and Sen. Pamela Gorman, who is against the sales tax increase but has indicated support for the rest of the budget.

Sen. Ron Gould, a Lake Havasu Republican, said lawmakers should stand up to the governor rather than give in on the sales tax issue. If it were successfully referred to the ballot, it wouldn’t be a fair fight, he said.

“The people who make millions of dollars off of the taxpayer dollars will dump millions of dollars into the campaign to pass this and we will be out stenciling ‘Vote no on the tax increase’ on old pieces of plywood from paint that we bought from St. Vincent de Paul,” Gould said.

Paul Senseman, the governor’s spokesperson, said the changes made in the Senate to the budget agreement “seem to be in the ballpark of what would be acceptable to the governor.”

-Reporters Christian Palmer and Jeremy Duda contributed to this article.

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