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Budget plan includes dramatic reduction in AHCCCS enrollment

Republican leaders say they hope to get approval by the end of the week for a proposal to fill in yawning deficits in both this fiscal year and the next, though the spending plan has yet to be made public.

House and Senate GOP leaders have been saying for weeks that their budget plan would be very similar to the proposal released by Gov. Jan Brewer in January.

To focus legislators’ attentions on the budget, committees in both chambers have canceled their hearings for the week.

Although much of the budget proposal is still a secret, House Majority Leader John McComish confirmed it would contain a provision to dramatically reduce enrollment in AHCCCS, the state’s public healthcare system.

In 2000, voters approved Proposition 204, which increased the number of people eligible to enroll. But despite constitutional voter-protection provisions, lawmakers will reduce the eligibility without sending it to the ballot.

Democrats said the voter-approved language requires the state to pay for the healthcare costs out of its general fund. Changing the eligibility without going back to voters is inviting a lawsuit, said Assistant House Minority Leader Kyrsten Sinema.

“On its face, the language of (Prop 204) is pretty clear,” she said.

However, it appears there is an agreement in principle between Republican leaders and Brewer. House Majority Leader John McComish said leadership in both chambers was in the process of briefing Republicans on the proposal. It will move forward this week, pending the approval of caucus members, he said.

The budget would be considered in a special legislative session, said Senate President Bob Burns.
“The governor has to make the call. We are going to meet with her this afternoon. So we will talk about that today I’m sure,” he said.

The budget plan for fiscal 2011, which begins in July, is expected to contain two levels of spending cuts. The higher level of cuts would be triggered if a temporary sales tax increase is rejected by voters in a May 18 special election. That would require lawmakers to replace more than $800 million in new revenue anticipated by the tax’s passage.

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