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Legislative battle over budget begins today

Budget

The Senate plans to start advancing a budget this afternoon, kicking off what is expected to be a legislative battle without the approval of Gov. Jan Brewer.

Senate President Andy Biggs told the Arizona Capitol Times that he’s forwarded a counter offer to Brewer and her staff, and that drafts are being prepared to be introduced on the Senate floor today.

The Senate Rules Committee must first meet to allow the late introduction of bills before the budget is read on the floor.
Brewer has not given her approval of Biggs’ budget plan, but the Gilbert Republican said he’s prepared to “move as quickly as we possibly can.” Biggs has long said he believes a budget can be completed this legislative session in April, though his proposal is expected to differ greatly from the budget proposed by Brewer during her January State of the State address.

“I’m very optimistic. I think we’ve done a lot of good work, and they have it, and we’re trying to figure out where we may not have connected the synapses,” Biggs said.

Sen. Adam Driggs, the majority whip, said it’s a “strong possibility” Biggs’ proposal has the support of the chamber, or at least enough votes to be approved and sent to the House.

“It would be pointless to bring forward a budget that doesn’t have 16 votes,” said Driggs, R-Phoenix.

Differences between Biggs’ and Brewer’s budget aren’t driven by ideological differences, Driggs said, rather on estimates in state revenues and available spending.

Biggs last year advanced a budget without clear support from his own caucus, and was subsequently rolled by a coalition of Democrats and Senate Republicans who voted for a spending plan that included Medicaid expansion against his will.

Biggs wouldn’t say if he has the necessary votes to advance his budget plan through committees and votes on the floor, but said “it would be imprudent to advance a budget that you don’t have 16 votes on . . . but we’re very confident that we’re real close to getting there.”

Senate Majority Leader John McComish said he thinks Biggs has the necessary votes from within the 17-member Senate GOP Caucus, including his own.

Just last week, Brewer’s chief of staff was accusing the Legislature of dragging its feet on the budget. But now it appears Biggs has secured enough support in his chamber to advance his competing plan, though its fate in the House is far from certain. House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, and Biggs are said to have differing strategies on advancing a budget to negotiate with Brewer.

The House budget includes less spending than Brewer’s proposal, but plenty more than what Biggs is suggesting. But that’s not to say the chambers are far apart from their ideal spending plans, Driggs said. Tobin’s strategy for negotiating with the governor is to include a proposal for spending priorities from his caucus and negotiate with Brewer over what sticks and what gets cut, he said.

“There’s differences, but I think it’s that they’re differences in negotiating technique,” Driggs said.

Driggs said he thinks the Senate budget is closer to a finished product than Tobin’s proposal.

“The House budget as I’ve seen it wouldn’t get 31 votes,” he said.

Unlike last year, when a coalition of Republicans and Democrats voted together to adopt a budget, Driggs said he can’t find a reason why the minority party would consider voting for this budget. There’s no issue as divisive as Medicaid expansion to drive the Democratic Caucus to side with Brewer.

Senate Minority Leader Anna Tovar, D-Phoenix, said she has yet to see the budget proposal but worries about its impact on the implementation of Common Core standards and Brewer’s proposal to create a new state agency for child protection and family services.

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