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House, Senate begin budget meetings with Ducey staff

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The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said Tuesday he and his Senate counterpart agree on an opening bid in budget talks with Gov. Doug Ducey’s staff.

Rep. Don Shooter said he and Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Debbie Lesko were set to meet with Ducey’s staff Tuesday afternoon.

Shooter says he and Lesko agree on broad outlines of a legislative proposal to the governor’s office. It came from a revamped budget process adopted by new House Speaker J.D. Mesnard.

“It is a very preliminary discussion,” Shooter said. “It is the beginning of the dance.”

Shooter met with appropriations sub-committee chairmen and majority Republican members over the past several weeks to ensure the initial proposal can pass muster with majority Republicans in the House. He also said he met with any Democrats to hear their priorities. Those were compiled into a spreadsheet covering top priorities of members.

Mesnard’s approach revamps one that saw legislative leaders and the governor negotiating and presenting a completed product to members.

Ducey’s $9.8 billion proposal includes an additional $114 million above required inflation increases for schools, scattered among more than a dozen initiatives Ducey outlined in his state of the state address.

Mesnard said in an interview last week that some of those are likely to sell well with members, including Ducey’s call for higher teacher salaries. Others, such as an expansion of all-day kindergarten, may be more problematic.

The governor’s staff has been having informal meetings with lawmakers on the budget proposal since it was released in January, spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said.

Budget negotiations between the Senate, House and governor’s office are done behind closed doors, and can take days, weeks or months. Shooter said he doesn’t know how long it will take to hammer out a deal, but it could take a while.

Mostly, though, he said he was pleased that the new process of bottom-up rather than top-down budget discussion in the House worked.

“I’m happy about it because we really have gone out of our way to include all the members and to try to accommodate their concerns and their priorities,” he said. “So it has taken a while, but the Speaker certainly thinks it is a better way.”

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(Photo by Alex Proimus via flickr/Creative Commons)

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