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Special session kicks off, but most work slated for Thursday

Sens. Rebecca Rios and Jonathan Paton enter to the House to  inform the Speaker the Senate has convened for the speical session called by Gov. Jan Brewer. (Photo by Bill Coates)

Sens. Rebecca Rios and Jonathan Paton enter the House to inform the speaker the Senate has convened for the special session called by Gov. Jan Brewer. (Photo by Bill Coates)

Lawmakers officially kicked off the fourth special session of the year – the second devoted to the fiscal 2010 budget – with an uneventful gathering at the state Capitol on Nov. 17.

The work on taking a small bite out of the state’s $2 billion budget deficit will take place on Nov. 19, when House and Senate budget committees are expected to meet in the morning. Republican lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer agreed last week on a plan that would eliminate about one-fourth of the state’s shortfall.

Leadership in both chambers was confident it would find support for the bills.

“We have counted our votes. We have our votes – yes,” said Senate President Bob Burns said.

The plan includes $155 million in cuts to the Department of Economic Security and $144 million in cuts to K-12 education. Another $160 million of general fund spending will be averted by allowing several state agencies to access alternate funding sources.

Agencies, including the Department of Revenue and the Corporation Commission, were given money to pay for operations, but the changes in state law that allowed them to use the money were included in a budget bill Brewer vetoed in September.

Some Republicans, however, are still trying to negotiate some changes to the package.

Sen. Thayer Verschoor, a Republican from Gilbert, said he has a problem with the part of the plan that would give agencies authority to raise fees. He said that should be the responsibility of the Legislature, which is bound by voter-approved restrictions on raising taxes and fees.

“I think we are skirting the intentions of Proposition 108 by giving the authority to the agencies rather than take that appropriation responsibility, which the voters told us we have,” Verschoor told the Arizona Capitol Times.

Brewer officially issued the call to special session early this afternoon. Although the budget component is the main priority, lawmakers also will be considering legislation to reform the Rio Nuevo special taxing district in Tucson; refund $18.5 million that was swept earlier this year from the 21st Century Fund to satisfy a court case; and change the anti-deficiency statutes that impact lenders’ ability to recoup money after foreclosing on homes.

House Minority Leader David Lujan said Democrats will oppose the cuts, but are likely to support the bills that give state agencies funding and return the money to the 21st Century Fund.

In a floor speech, Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia said Democrats in the Senate are seeking legislation that would allow schools on American Indian reservations to use impact aid-money from the federal government-to offset state general fund cuts to their budgets.

Burns said the issue won’t be taken up in this special session, but he said it probably will come up later.

“If we have another special session in December, that (issue) in all probably will be back,” Burns said.

- Luige del Puerto contributed to this article.

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