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Hostile amendment slows House passage of budget bill

The fate of a bill that would delay payments to schools and universities as a deficit-closing gimmick is in question after the House of Representatives amended the measure, linking its enactment to a jobs creation and business tax cut bill that is stalled in the Senate.

The House today narrowly approved the special session legislation, which would trim $450 million off of the current year’s $1.4 billion deficit by pushing off a scheduled payment to school districts and state universities to the beginning of the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

The bill, S1002, was approved last week by the Senate and was part of a package of legislation aimed at closing the bulk of this year’s deficit and paving the way for other maneuvers in the upcoming year.

The package, which included a special election to raise the sales tax temporarily, was crafted to win bipartisan support. All six measures received votes from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

Rep. Frank Antenori, a Tucson Republican, offered a hostile amendment to S1002 when the House debated it on the floor today. His amendment, which was ultimately supported by GOP leadership and adopted, prevents the school funding rollover from taking place until a House-Republican-backed job creation bill is signed into law.

“Simply borrowing and raising taxes is not the total solution,” Antenori said in support of his amendment.

Democrats recoiled at linking the budget bill to a bill that cuts taxes for businesses.

“It’s just flat out wrong-headed to tie this to the corporate bill,” said Rep. Nancy Young Wright, an Oro Valley Democrat.

But Republican supporters of joining the two measures said the point is to fix the state’s ailing economy, which has lost more than 300,000 jobs during the recession.

“We have to fight just a little further for the common man…who’s trying to find a job,” said Rep. Steve Montenegro, a Litchfield Park Republican.

However, even some Republican supporters said they don’t think the amendment will have much of an impact, as the Senate won’t accept the amended bill. Senate President Bob Burns is a cosponsor of the House job creation and tax cut bill, H2250, but has said he won’t bring it to the floor until after all budget work has been completed.

“I’ve got a feeling that this bill will never see the light of day going back to the Senate,” said Phoenix Republican Jim Weiers.

Other Republicans debated whether it was appropriate to link the two bills. Tucson Republican Vic Williams said doing so “re-instills the partisanship that is basically bringing the whole state to a standstill.”

But Andy Biggs, a Republican from Gilbert, said this was “the correct approach” to letting the Senate know how important H2250 is to the House Republican caucus.

The deciding vote on the bill was cast by Rep. Lucy Mason, a Republican from Prescott. She had earlier denounced the bill and the amendment as “all about politics” and not actually solving the state’s problems and voted no.

She said she changed her vote because she was passed a note she believed was from her district’s Republican senator, Steve Pierce. Mason said she later discovered the note urging her to support the bill was from Montenegro.

“I’m really fried,” she said. “I feel a little bit like I’ve been pushed around.”

Although upset at what transpired, Mason said she didn’t think her vote change will affect the bill’s fate, as it will die in the Senate because of the amendment.

House Speaker Kirk Adams said he was not sure what would happen to the bill and said he would meet with Burns later today to discuss what to do next. He said the amendment demonstrates how strongly House Republicans feel about H2250.

Adams said he had sought to keep hostile amendments off of the bills, but ultimately supported this one because he is the prime sponsor of H2250.

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