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House Appropriations plans to hear budget bills Thursday

Rep. John Kavanagh (File Photo)

Rep. John Kavanagh (File Photo)

The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hear budget bills Thursday, which could mean the governor and legislative leaders are inching closer towards a final budget compromise.

It could also be a mere procedural move. That is, the House is moving the budget bills out of the committee level pending the result of negotiations with Gov. Jan Brewer.

Republicans have reported that the budget discussions are going very well but that a final agreement hasn’t been reached.

Lawmakers, the governor and their staffers have been holding marathon meetings in the last three days in attempts to fix a $540 million deficit this year and another hole estimated at $1.2 billion for the next fiscal year.

Legislative leaders have even skipped floor action as they hunkered down to negotiate the budget with Brewer.

The Appropriations Committee hearing is set for 9 a.m. tomorrow.

The committee’s agenda indicated there would be strike everything amendments offered to the 13 budget bills that the Senate approved this month.

That could mean the Senate plan will be heavily revised.

Multiple sources at the Capitol have said the three sides – the House, the Senate, and the governor – have all indicated their willingness to move from their original positions in order to reach a compromise.

Yesterday, legislative leaders said they are making strides in their talks with the governor.
They said the tone of the negotiations has been very positive, and the talks have progressed to discussing the “nitty-gritty details.”

The talks came on the heels of the Senate’s decision to unilaterally adopt a budget plan earlier this month.

The Senate proposal trimmed more than $1.3 billion from the budget, drastically reduced funding for the state’s Medicaid program and shifted some of the state’s costs to local governments. The cuts are about $600 million more than Gov. Jan Brewer proposed in January.

Among the worst hit areas are K-12 schools, higher education, health care and social services.

Prior to the budget talks this week, there were serious disagreements between the Legislature and the governor in their approaches to solving the budget deficits and crafting a spending plan for the upcoming year.

Brewer was unhappy with the Senate proposal, which she publicly criticized in an editorial for The Arizona Republic.

However, following her scolding of the Senate budget plan, the governor said she would be open to deeper cuts than what she had first proposed, but legislative leadership would have to convince her of the need.

While open to deeper cuts, Brewer said she didn’t want cuts to come from K-12 schools. She opposed the $235 million cut the Senate budget proposed for the Arizona Department of Education.

In an earlier interview, Sen. Andy Biggs, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he would be willing to scale back the proposed K-12 cuts, but only if the governor agreed to deeper reductions elsewhere.

The goal, he said, is to pass a structurally balanced budget that doesn’t rely on “gimmicks,” such as a $245 million rollover for K-12 schools or a $330 million loan from the Early Childhood Development and Health Fund that Brewer included in her budget.

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