Dissident Republicans met off and on all day behind closed doors in their bid to have the nearly $9.2 billion spending plan approved last week by the Senate expanded to deal with their own priorities. At least part of that includes additional spending for the new Division of Child Welfare, created by Gov. Jan Brewer to replace the troubled Child Protective Services.
Other issues also remain, including whether the state will eliminate the ability of school districts to create their own charter schools. That provision was inserted into the Senate version of the budget but is opposed by many House members.
But Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, one of the holdouts, said late Tuesday she remains optimistic that a deal will be hammered out.
“We’re meeting, we’re talking, we’re continuing to converse,” she said. More to the point, Brophy McGee said that’s more than was happening earlier this week when the GOP leadership tried to run the budget plan through the Republican-controlled House without bothering to consult all members.
And Brophy McGee said she believes the House leaders are negotiating in good faith.
Talks are set to continue today.
The stalemate in the House did not keep members of the Senate Appropriations Committee from approving several measures Tuesday that actually would add to the spending plan.
Potentially the most costly would end the practice of funding much of the operating costs of the state Department of Public Safety not from general tax dollars but instead from the Highway User Revenue Fund, made up largely of gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees. That practice has drawn fire especially from cities and counties who share in those revenues.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said that has left Arizona communities short of the money they would otherwise use for road construction and repairs. And he suggested that taking funds from local governments might even violate state constitutional provisions which limit how gas taxes and vehicle registration fees can be used.
HB2692 would undo that — to the tune of adding nearly $120 million to what has to be paid for to run DPS out of the state budget.
On a separate matter, the same committee approved extra funds to give raises to DPS officers.
HB2691 would provide $8.1 million immediately this coming year for pay hikes above what the state already is spending. That amount would increase to $13.1 million the following year and $18.8 million the year after that.
Kelsey Lundy, a lobbyist hired by the Associated Highway Patrolmen of Arizona, said officers are now paid about 23 percent less than what they would make at other Arizona police agencies. She said the money is needed to ensure the state can fill both existing vacancies and replace the more than 100 senior officers who are expected to retire by the end of 2016.
Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, agreed to go along. But Crandell, noting the current budget stalemate, said it remains to be seen whether the funding will become part of the final package.