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Draft bills show special session cuts of $300M

Draft versions of the bills lawmakers are expected to consider this week in a special legislative session show about $300 million in spending cuts to education and social services, as well as the restoration of funding for high-tech economic development.

The three draft bills, which were obtained by Arizona Capitol Times, could be voted on this week. Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Jan Brewer agreed on the provisions several weeks ago and have been working to gather support. Top lawmakers are aiming for a special legislative session to be held Nov. 17 through Nov. 19.

The proposal would cut $157 million from the Department of Economic Security, which manages the state’s social welfare programs. About $2 million of the cut would be from special funds, including nearly $800,000 from a fund dedicated to enforcing child-support payments. The rest of the cuts are from the state’s general fund.

The proposed cuts are considerably larger than those Brewer vetoed in September, after lawmakers failed to approve a ballot measure that would let voters weigh in on a temporary sales tax increase. That budget proposal would have trimmed about $90 million from the DES budget.

The draft legislation shows a reduction of $144 million to K-12 education spending. The cut would impact what is known as “soft capital,” which can be used for things such as books and supplies. The move is an attempt to give school districts more flexibility in how they absorb funding cuts.

The draft bills also provide for the resolution of a lawsuit before the Arizona Court of Appeals. In January, lawmakers swept $18.5 million from the 21st Century Fund, which was created to help attract high-tech firms to Arizona.

In May, Science Foundation Arizona, which manages the fund, sued the state, arguing the money was contractually obligated and could not be taken to balance the state’s general fund. It won the suit, but the judgment did not direct the state to repay the money, so Science Foundation appealed the ruling in order to force the return of the money. Replacing the money would be a way to end the litigation.

The state is paying about $5,000 a day in interest on the money it owes the 21st Century Fund.

Another bill would give several state agencies, such as the Department of Revenue and the Corporation Commission, the ability to access funds that had been appropriated earlier in the year. The provisions were originally contained in a budget bill that Brewer vetoed in September.

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