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Arizona Senate advancing Republican budget plan

Sen. Andy Biggs, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, listens as members of the public give testimony on the Senate's proposed budget. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Sen. Andy Biggs, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, listens as members of the public give testimony on the Senate's proposed budget. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Arizona Senate on Wednesday advanced a budget-balancing plan with spending cuts in health care, education and other services that majority Republicans called overdue to fit state spending to state revenue.

“Eventually the time of reckoning is here and you have to pay,” said Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City. “I’m not happy that I have to play the stern parent today but I have to do that.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the main bill in the 13-bill package on a 9-4 vote with all Republicans voting in favor. Committee Democrats voted against the bill, saying its cuts go too far.

“We are stealing a quality education system from our children,” said Sen. David Schapira, D-Tempe. “Generational theft is exactly what this budget is.”

After waiving public-notice rules on Tuesday, the full Senate is expected to consider the package late Wednesday. Passage would send it to the House where majority Republicans have said they like much of the Senate plan.

However, the plan has significant differences from Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s own budget proposal.

The $8.2 billion spending plan includes roughly $1.5 billion of spending cuts, or about half-again as those proposed by Brewer in January.

The plan’s health care cuts include Brewer’s proposal to drop Medicaid eligibility for 250,000 people, nearly all low-income childless adults, or about one-fifth of the enrollment of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Brewer on Tuesday shelved her January proposal, releasing a scaled-back version that is not reflected in the Senate Republicans’ plan.

Besides the Medicaid cuts that also include new cuts in payment rates to providers, other stated or expected impacts of the plan include elimination of day-care subsidies, new tuition increases for university students and larger class sizes in K-12 schools.

The plan omits hundreds of millions of borrowing that Brewer proposed to close a shortfall in the current fiscal year.

Instead, the plan would close the current fiscal year with a $374.1 million shortfall, but, after the spending cuts and other changes, produce a $5 million surplus a year later.

The Arizona Constitution requires the state to have a balanced budget but the state previously has ended one fiscal year with a shortfall. However, that shortfall wasn’t formally acknowledged in advance, as is being done with the Senate Republican plan.

Arizona’s revenue dropped by about a third at the bottom of the recession, and the state used spending cuts, borrowing federal stimulus dollars and funding delays to balance several recent budgets. State revenue has started creeping upward but stimulus funding is now drying up, resulting in a projected $1.1 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year.

The Senate Republicans’ plan to close that gap also includes about $100 million of savings for the state by shifting some prison costs to counties and by reducing vehicle tax money shared with local governments.

Local officials complained that could force local property tax increases to maintain law enforcement and other services and the changes amount to budget gimmickry that the plan’s backers said are eschewing.

“There is nothing conservative about putting the state in the black but shifting (costs) to counties,” said Navajo County Supervisor David Tenney.

Advocates of social programs and education also criticized the budget plan during a committee hearing Wednesday.

“The public is speaking. They’re saying they do not want this budget,” said Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson.

But Appropriations Chairman Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican who was the plan’s chief architect, said he was listening to other voices.

“The public has had their say. They voted overwhelmingly for Republicans to come down here and balance a budget,” Biggs said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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