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Senate approves latest budget plan despite veto threat

Sen.The Senate approved its latest version of a state budget Tuesday after making further cuts to a $9.2 billion fiscal 2015 spending plan approved by the House last week just as Gov. Jan Brewer indicated that those changes could spur her to veto the budget.

House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh on Tuesday refused to concur with amendments the Senate had added to the budget earlier in the day – sending the budget into a conference committee made up of two Republicans and one Democrat from each chamber, who are charged with hashing out the differences on the budget. The members of the committee have not yet been chosen.

After the conference committee has agreed on changes, the budget bills will face another vote from the full House and Senate.

The move came after Gov. Jan Brewer told lawmakers and the media that she would veto any non-budget bills that reach her desk until the budget is finished.

Changes adopted to the budget included reductions in funding for Arizona universities, which lawmakers said splits new funding for the University of Arizona in half, from $2.5 million to $1.25 million. The amendments, sponsored by Senate President Andy Biggs, also restrict general fund research grants from being used to finance medical marijuana research.

Senators also voted to further reduce funding available to districts that converted schools from public to charters in fiscal 2014, cutting the $33 million in funding for the next fiscal year approved by the House in half to $16.5 million.

No charter assistance funding for district charters would be provided after fiscal 2015.

“We’re giving them half and then the program goes away,” Biggs said. “It’s simply unaffordable.”

The Senate had previously approved $7.4 million in budget reductions on Monday.

GOP lawmakers rejected several amendments sponsored by Democrats, including a proposal to add $25 million for child care subsidies for the working poor and an additional $5 million for a new high school assessment to test Common Core standards. The budget already includes $8.5 million for the test.

One Democrat’s amendment was adopted – Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor of Phoenix was able to appropriate $125,000 for the Arizona Commission on African-American Affairs.

GOP lawmakers also rejected amendments from one of their own, Sen. Steve Pierce. The Prescott Republican sponsored a proposal to provide $1 million to the Prescott fire department to cover liabilities incurred during the Yarnell Hill Fire, as well as a plan to expand AHCCCS coverage.

Pierce’s amendment, which was initially adopted, added podiatry services, insulin pumps and emergency dental care to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. But the amendment was later stripped from the budget by a 16-14 vote.
Biggs defended the budget against criticism from Democrats who said the Senate was choosing to leave Arizonans’ priorities, such as child welfare and highway maintenance, underfunded.

“These amendment are actually coming from taxpayers in the state, from people outside the Capitol,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. “These are people pounding on the doors, wanting assistance, wanting help.”

Biggs argued that Democrats made their arguments for more funding in a vacuum, and said the state must remain fiscally responsible as it recovers from the recession. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.

“This budget spends a lot of money. A lot of money,” Biggs said on the floor. “And we will continue to spend a lot of money on behalf of our citizens.”


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