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Top four lawmakers present budget arguments at Chamber lunch

Everyone at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s annual legislative luncheon agreed: Arizona’s budget needs to be the top priority, and the state needs to change its course.

How that should be done, of course, will be the sticking point in the 2010 legislative session.

House Speaker Kirk Adams said all 90 legislators need to work together to bridge the nearly $5 billion in budget deficits facing the state in the next 18 months. Then he lashed out at Democratic critics.

He called their arguments against revamping Arizona business tax policy the “tired old rhetoric of class warfare” and urged business leaders in the room to be strong in their support of tax reform.

“Do not be cowed by the shrillness of their arguments or the size of their megaphones,” he said.

David Lujan, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, said it is clear that policymakers need to make changes to attract businesses to Arizona, but he stressed the importance of government investment in high-tech research and the education system instead of tax reform.

Senate President Bob Burns said state government has no choice but to spend less, and that painful “adjustments” to spending will have to be made this year. But he rejected the notion that lawmakers would be “cutting” the spending.

“I’m sick of the word ‘cuts.’ I want to throw it out the window,” Burns said. “We are not in a position to cut. The economy has cut (spending).”

But Senate Minority Leader Jorge Luis Garcia warned the business community to be aware of what GOP lawmakers are considering. If they proceed with trimming the number of people enrolled in state-funded health care by more than 300,000 – a figure he said Gov. Jan Brewer is considering – the cost for caring for those people will fall to businesses who pay for health insurance when those newly uncovered Arizonans go to the emergency room for treatment.

Garcia challenged business leaders to be vigilant and fight for their interests.

“Use the big bat that you have so that you can prevent this transfer of tax (to businesses),” he said.

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