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Arizona House breaks deadlock, begins debate on state budget

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, (left) and Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, read proposed budget amendments late in the afternoon March 27. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, (left) and Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, read proposed budget amendments late in the afternoon March 27. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

A deal on a state budget apparently in hand, the Arizona House on Thursday evening began debating proposed changes to a plan passed by the Senate following four days of negotiations.

House Speaker Andy Tobin appeared relieved that a deal was struck with fellow Republican members who were pushing for more child-welfare and education spending.

The House passed the first of nine budget bills on a voice vote about 6 p.m., then recessed briefly. Minority Democrats then forced roll-call votes on a series of failed amendments they wanted to add.

House leaders planned to power through the other eight and then do final votes, which could come late in the night or early Friday.

The Senate could take up the budget Friday if it passes the House, with plans for debate and votes next week.

The revisions to the $9.18 billion budget adopted by the Senate last week add an additional $54 million in spending, bringing the total to $9.24 billion.

The additions include $33 million to keep about 60 new district charter schools running for another year, an additional $3 million for child welfare and $2.5 million for the University of Arizona. Rep. Ethan Orr said the money could help it start a planned veterinary school.

A group of six Republicans had blocked a deal Monday and negotiated with GOP leaders through the week to add child-welfare and education spending. They walked out of talks Wednesday, accusing House leadership of acting in bad faith, and held an impromptu news conference in the Capitol press offices.

That appeared to break the logjam, and talks resumed Thursday.

“It was late, things were moving and then they stopped. They were moving and then they stopped,” Tobin said. “People were wanting to come on, they were wanting to wrap it up. It’s just a painstaking process.”

Democrats were mainly on the sidelines in the negotiations and had no ability to add to the budget during debate. Their efforts to add millions for child welfare programs, student aid and state forestry were rebuffed.

With 31 votes needed for passage, and 36 Republicans in the House, the six GOP opponents had the ability to block the plan before the deal was struck.

Rep. Bob Robson, one of the six Republicans who blocked a deal, worked most of the week to cut a deal.

“Some of my concerns were addressed, but in a spirit of compromise and the ability to be able to move the process forward I’m supporting the budget,” said Robson, of Chandler. “I hope some of those concerns can be addressed in the Senate.”

The six members were most concerned about two issues: Funding for a new child-welfare agency and a provision retroactively stopping school districts from converting schools to charters. Several other issues were on the table, including additional money for the University of Arizona and for K-12 education.

The six Republicans pushing for more money for Child Protective Services and education include some who broke ranks last year and teamed with Democrats to back Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan. Along with Robson, they are Jeff Dial, Kate Brophy McGee, Heather Carter, Ethan Orr and Doug Coleman.

The education issues are centered on school districts converting schools to charters. The Senate-passed version would have rolled back conversions done in the past year.

Kavanagh said the $33 million would continue extra payments for about 60 district schools for one year. After that, their status will be reviewed.

Charter schools get more money per student, but backers of the rollback argue the campuses also can tap voter-approved bond money and overrides and end up with more money. Supporters of charter conversions say the extra money lets districts focus on innovative education and improve student performance.

Child Protective Services would get only about $3 million more than called for in the Senate-passed plan. However, there also is a guarantee that when an overhaul plan is finalized in the coming months, the House could return in a special session to provide additional funding.

The deal also restores funding for low-income medical services like podiatry and senior dental care.

Flood of amendments slow budget process

The six Republicans who withheld their votes on the Senate-approved budget were fighting for more money toward education and the child welfare system, among other items.

When the Senate budget went up for shot-lived debate on the floor at the beginning of the week, the six Republicans had drafted 50 amendments to the budget to highlight their spending priorities that were not included. The planned House vote on the budget was abruptly canceled when it became clear that the votes would not materialize, but House leaders worked toward holding a vote on March 27.

The six were far from the only ones trying to amend the Senate budget. A total of 93 amendments were drafted for the budget outlining priorities from members of the House of Representatives.

Education:
• Republican Rep. Heather Carter’s amendment increasing the appropriation for alternative teacher development to $5 million from $500,000.
• Carter’s amendment increasing the appropriation for Arizona Department of Education achievement testing to $13.5 million from $8 million.
• Republican Rep. Ethan Orr’s amendment appropriating $4.2 to the University of Arizona to fund the Veterinarian School.
• Orr’s amendment increasing the appropriation to the UofA cooperative extension to $3 million from $2 million.
• Orr’s amendment adding $15 million for UofA research funding.
• Republican Rep. Doug Coleman’s amendment appropriating $2 million to Arizona Department of Education for information technology certification.

Child welfare:
• Brophy McGee’s amendment increasing the appropriation for Department of Economic Security’s CHILDS system to $10 million from $5 million.
• Brophy McGee’s amendment adding $10 million for child care subsidies.
• Brophy McGee’s amendment adding $6.8 million for more Office of Child Welfare Investigations investigators.
• Brophy McGee’s amendment adding $3 million for records retention staff at the Department of Economic Security.
• Brophy McGee’s amendment increasing the appropriation for Department of Economic Security child safety staff to $21.5 million from $15.3 million.

Other requests:
• Republican Rep. Adam Kwasman’s amendment stating money appropriated into the accountability and achievement testing line item may only be used for the completion of the AIMS standards, and shall not be used for any purpose related to the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards.
• Democratic Rep. Lisa Otondo’s amendment to increase funding to the State Land Department for wildland fire management by $5 million.
• Democratic Rep. Lela Alston’s amendment to appropriate $2.2 million for restoring domestic violence services throughout the state.
• Republican Rep. Brenda Barton’s amendment to increase the appropriation to the Department of Water Resources by $2 million.
• Democratic Rep. Chad Campbell’s amendment to add $12.6 million to the Arizona Financial Aid Trust Fund, which would receive a two-to-one match from the federal government.
• Republican Rep. Justin Pierce’s amendment to appropriate $3 million over three years for a one-time salary increase for Department of Public Safety employees.
• Carter’s amendment appropriating $2.1 million to AHCCCS for emergency dental care services for eligible adults.
• Carter’s amendment appropriating $180,000 to AHCCCS covering insulin pump therapy services.
• Republican Rep. Carl Seel’s amendment requiring AHCCCS to limit reimbursement for nonemergency transportation to not more than the cost of bus transportation in regions where a bus is available.
• Seel’s amendment requiring AHCCCS to conduct an annual audit of its payments by matching identities of members against enrollment of all other health plans.
• Seel’s amendment requiring AHCCCS health care providers to verify, prior to providing nonemergency medical care, that the person seeking the care is an eligible member and currently enrolled in the AHCCCS system.
• Republican Rep. T.J. Shope’s amendment establishing the Mega-Events Fund, which would allow certain eligible events to receive up to $10 million in state money for reimbursement of safety and security costs, and certain other costs.
• Democratic Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla’s amendment allocating $2 million from the Budget Stabilization Fund interest income to the State Parks.

– Hank Stephenson
hank.stephenson@azcapitoltimes.com

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