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Brewer, lawmakers end budget stall, reopen talks

The Governor’s Office and legislative leaders have reopened lines of communications involving the state budget, signaling a thaw over how to craft the state’s spending plan in the next few years.

Gov. Jan Brewer, Senate President Steve Pierce and House Speaker Andy Tobin met Thursday. After the meeting, Pierce said staffers from both sides could start working together as soon as this weekend.

“We have our sleeves rolled up. We’re willing to work with her staff whenever they’re ready and they said they could start doing it probably this weekend,” Pierce said.

Matthew Benson, Brewer’s spokesman, confirmed the development.

He said legislative leaders have made “encouraging moves” and indicated their willingness to take another look at some of the governor’s key initiatives.

Benson would not divulge details.

“I don’t want to over-characterize this. They’ve indicated willingness to take a second look at some of the governor’s priorities in the budget. But many of the specifics are yet to be worked out,” he said.

“Suffice to say, in light of what the governor’s heard, she feels comfortable restarting negotiations.”

Last month, lawmakers, who were frustrated by what they described as Brewer’s unwillingness to negotiate, unveiled a budget that ditched her major spending initiatives and had far more conservative revenue projections.

They then passed it out of committee.

The Governor’s Office, in turn, described the legislative budget as “shortsighted” and “reckless,” criticizing it for failing public safety, education and health care.

Brewer also instructed her staffers to stop meeting with their legislative counterparts until, a Benson said, lawmakers “address some of her key concerns with the proposal that they put forward.”

Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs immediately welcomed the recent development.

“This is a good move for everybody,” he said, adding, “staffs are getting together and I couldn’t be happier.”

Resuming discussions at the staff level certainly helps the budget process along. But communications among staffers can be open without Brewer and the lawmakers necessarily negotiating the budget in earnest.

The prevailing sentiment at the Capitol, however, is there’s ample time yet to negotiate, and once an agreement is reached, things will happen fast — meaning the amendments will be offered and adopted, and the final budget plan can be passed in a matter of days.

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