It’s no joke – the House has passed a budget on April Fool’s day, after nearly 17 hours of deliberation and discussion that began the previous afternoon.
Discussions started at 3:30 p.m. yesterday in the House Appropriations Committee. From there, the bills moved through the House Rules Committee, then the Committee of the Whole, and finally to a vote. The House finally adjourned at 8 a.m. today.
House Speaker Kirk Adams said the $8.4 billion spending plan bridges more than a $1 billion deficit without the use of accounting gimmicks. The $1.25 billion of total cuts made to the fiscal 2011 and 2012 budgets leaves out some of the maneuvers that Gov. Jan Brewer proposed in January, including borrowing measures.
“We have passed a budget that is balanced without any gimmicks or borrowing,” Adams said after the early morning vote concluded. “We have restored structural stability to our state finances.”
The House budget plan will cut $121 million from the fiscal 2011 budget and $1.14 billion from the fiscal 2012 budget, which is about $200 million less than the total cuts the Senate made and $467 more than the cuts originally proposed by the governor.
Republicans were generally united in their support for the bills, insisting that the cuts were necessary in order to produce a fiscally sound budget.
But Democrats spent most of the night calling for alternatives to the deep cuts. House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, and Assistant Minority Leader Steve Farley, D-Tucson, proposed amendments that would broaden the tax code and create additional revenue.
“By allowing these loopholes, we are punishing the businesses that are actually playing by the rules we set for them,” Campbell argued.
But even as he boasted that doing so would eliminate the need for such drastic cuts, Farley put the total additional revenue to be generated by his amendment at a mere $104 million.
Democrats balked at the cuts to education. On the floor, they offered several amendments that would seek to restore some funding that had been cut from kindergarten to twelfth grade education and higher education. They argued that the cuts being made would be devastating to such institutions
But Appropriations chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, rebuked speakers who argued that such cuts were draconian, pointing out that they are relatively small when compared to all spending within those institutions.
The $72.9 million cut to community colleges in the fiscal 2012 budget represents 54.7 percent reduction of state funding, but only 6.1 percent of the total funding they receive, which includes local funds and tuition revenues, Kavanagh said. Likewise, the $198 million cut to universities represents 22 percent of all state funding, but only 4.7 percent of total funding.
“Four years into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, we will only be cutting 6.1 percent of their funding,” he said during the Appropriations hearing. “In that true context, while this is unfortunate, it is not draconian.”
“I am proud of my Republican colleagues and the Governor, because we did come up with a balanced budget proposal,” said House Majority Whip Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale.
Critics also countered the Republicans’ boast that their balanced budget does not raise taxes is disingenuous.
By shifting some financial responsibilities to counties and cutting government funding to institutions that are also partly funded by the counties – community colleges and K-12 schools – local governments may have to raise property taxes to cover those costs, they argued.
“Meanwhile, the majority party gets to dance around here saying we balanced the budget without raising taxes,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. “This is a farce.”
As the talks wound down, the Republican leadership began to run out of patience for the Democrats’ complaints.
Majority Leader Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said that if the Democrats wanted to be more included in the budget discussions, they should have presented a proposal.
“This is what a budget looks like,” Tobin said, holding up several pages of the proposed bills. “Go make one. But remember, somewhere along the line, you have to make a cut somewhere.”
The bills passed the House mostly along party lines. The Senate will hear and vote on them today. Brewer is expected to sign the budget when it reaches her desk.