House Speaker Andy Tobin stopped debate in the middle of a bill when it became clear he lacked the necessary votes for the spending plan. He then went behind closed doors with some of the more fiscally moderate members of the GOP caucus in a bid to see what they needed to add their support.
The problem is that some of Republicans said the nearly $9.2 billion spending plan approved March 20 by the state Senate falls short of what they say is needed to meet the state’s priorities. It also is about $175 million less than Gov. Jan Brewer requested, with much of that difference in funding for the new Division of Child Safety.
Tobin needs 31 votes in the 60-member chamber for any budget. And with Democrats firmly opposed, he cannot afford to lose more than five votes among the 36 Republicans in the House.
And even if Tobin can line up the GOP votes today for some sort of spending package, it remains to be seen whether even that can get the governor’s blessing.
That funding for the child welfare agency, designed to replace Child Protective Services, remains a major sticking point.
Brewer demanded about $74 million for the agency.
That includes $21.5 million for new caseworkers and support staff to deal with the fact the agency has a backlog of 10,000 child abuse cases that have been listed as inactive because they have not been addressed in at least two months. By contrast, the Senate-approved budget proposes spending just $15.3 million.
There’s also less money than Brewer sought for everything from one-time costs of setting up a new agency to a new computer system to track cases.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said those numbers also are unacceptable to her.
She chaired a special task force formed last year in the wake of the discovery that about 6,500 abuse complaints had never been investigated despite state laws to the contrary. So Brophy McGee prepared amendments to the budget to restore not only Brewer’s original $21.5 million request, but also to add $6.8 million to boost funding for the separate Office of Child Welfare Investigations.
Another fight is whether the state should retroactively eliminate the ability of public schools to set up their own charter schools.
Some districts made that move because state provides more per-student aid for charter schools.
The Senate wants to eliminate that option — even for schools already in existence — because of the price tag for that of more than $30 million a year. But there is resistance in the House.
There are other spending priorities for House members, things not included in the Senate plan.
For example, Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, wants the state’s Medicaid program to provide coverage for emergency dental care. She said the alternative is people being treated in hospital emergency rooms at a far higher cost.
Other Republicans have different issues they want discussed.
For example, Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, wants $4.2 million to establish a veterinary school at the University of Arizona. And Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, wants a mandate for police and sheriff’s departments to put a law enforcement officer in every public school.
“I think we need to get crime out of our schools,” Dial said, including drugs and gangs. “I think just having a police officer walk around helps with bullying, helps with everything.”
The House is scheduled to resume work at 9 a.m. Tuesday, though it is unclear when a vote on the budget will take place.