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Senate panel OKs bill to temporarily end voter-protection of spending

A Senate panel April 6 advanced a bill that would give lawmakers more flexibility on spending, regardless of whether voters intended the money to be spent on specific programs.

HCR2039, a ballot measure that would go before voters in November, grants lawmakers temporary access to half of any funding stream that was created by voters for a specific spending measure. The Legislature would be able to keep part of the funding for four years.

“It will give us enough money to avoid both tax increases and deeper cuts,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and author of HCR2039.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the measure by a 5-4 vote.

Republicans have been looking at easing restrictions that resulted from the passage of Proposition 105 in 1998.
The proposition bans lawmakers from amending laws and funding mechanisms approved by voters unless the change furthers the purpose of the initiative and is approved by three-fourths of the Legislature, a threshold nearly impossible to reach.

Voters made the move in response to lawmakers repeatedly overturning what they had approved at the ballot – in some cases just months after a proposition had passed.

Kavanagh’s measure is one of a few options meant to untie the hands of lawmakers as they grapple with a multi-year, multi-billion dollar budget deficit. Another option is contained in HCR2041, which would ask voters to reauthorize every eight years all publicly approved spending measures.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also passed that ballot measure by a vote of 6-3 on the same day.

Supporters said easing the restrictions that were etched in the Constitution by Prop. 105 would give lawmakers the flexibility to deal with the budget deficit, rather than be forced to make significantly bigger cuts in areas not protected by the 1998 initiative.

They said the initiatives were passed during better times and argued that before the Legislature makes any more drastic cuts in important areas, voters should be asked whether they want to reconsider programs they earlier approved in order to pay for higher priorities.

Kavanagh said his proposal is reasonable – it only gives the Legislature access to half of the funds for a limited period, which begins in fiscal year 2011 and ends in fiscal year 2014.

But critics of the proposal said voters have already made clear where they want the state to invest in.

Voters also approved the spending programs because the Legislature failed to act and prioritize areas that are dear to them, they said.

“I think the bottom line is … this Legislature wants to get their hands on funds that, believe me, they would have months ago if they could,” said Sen. Rebecca Rios, a Democrat from Apache Junction.

Sen. Paula Aboud, a Democrat from Tucson, said she believes voters will reject the measure.

Sandy Bahr, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, said without voter-protection, many of the things that are important to voters would be at risk.

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