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Swift budget unveiling spurs critics

In less than 24 hours, the House and Senate had introduced, discussed, and voted on their budget proposals – a move that has led some lawmakers to grouse about the lack of time to consider the important policy implications.

During the Appropriations Committee meetings in the House and Senate Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats alike complained that they had not had sufficient time to review the budget bills before the Appropriations committees met.

The bills were introduced Monday afternoon and heard the next morning at 8 a.m.

Democrats, in particular, accused the majority party of keeping them the dark about the budget provisions until the last minute.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, blasted Republicans for the short turnaround between the introduction of the budget bills and the hearing.

“This is the single most important function we have down here as a Legislature,” he said during the committee meeting. “I hope that as we move forward, we slow this down and bring in all interested parties.”

Other committee members also acknowledged during the meeting that they weren’t very familiar with all the nuts and bolts of the budget. Rep. Steve Urie, R-Gilbert, said he didn’t get copies of the bills until he got to his office that morning right before heading to the hearing.

The primary budget bill, or “feed” bill, HB 2852, was the only one in the House with significant public testimony. Representatives from organizations like the Children’s Action Alliance and the Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition, and agencies like AHCCCS and the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association, appeared before the committee to voice their concerns. But many of the other budget bills were passed with no testimony at all and few people signed in to support or oppose them.

Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson, said that he had spoken to some people who wanted to testify, but couldn’t because the short notice didn’t give them a chance to plan accordingly. During the committee hearing, he read an email from Arizona Department of Transportation lobbyist Kevin Biesty, sent after 11 p.m. yesterday, saying that he was still looking over the budget and wouldn’t be able to make it to the morning hearing due to the short notice.

“I wish my stakeholders had been given ample time to analyze the budget,” Williams said, adding that because few of them had been able to do their own analysis, they weren’t able to share their concerns with him before the hearing.

Democrats in the Senate echoed his concerns during the Appropriations committee hearing. Sens. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, and David Lujan, D-Phoenix, argued that the quick turnaround meant the process was not transparent.

“We still don’t take the time to ensure that members of our state, our community, who elect us… have opportunity to provide input,” Lopez said.

Lujan rhetorically asked how a taxpayer from Flagstaff could have provided input when the budget is negotiated behind closed doors and brought to committee “pretty much a done deal.”

But House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, brushed off the criticism. Although the bills were heard in committee today, he pointed out that it would probably be weeks before any budget came to the floor for a vote.

“Historically, we always have a lot of input and make many changes,” he told our reporter, adding that the complaint that the budget was “rushed” is one that the Democrats and other opponents of the budget always repeat.

Committee member Rep. Russ Jones, R-Yuma, acknowledged that he also had not seen the bills until late yesterday afternoon. But he said that was typical of the state Legislature.

“That’s just the way we do it down here,” he said. “We don’t have cooling-off periods like other states do, where there’s a day or two between when the bills are introduced and when they’re heard.”

– Reporter Luige del Puerto contributed to this report.

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