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Lawmakers give final approval to special session bill

Arizona lawmakers have given final approval to a bill that will carve $193 million out of state government spending and ended their fifth special session of the year.

The bill, S1001, includes about $75 million in spending cuts as a result of reducing funding for most state agencies by 7.5 percent. The reductions also include nearly $79 million in sweeps from special-purpose funds.

The House of Representatives approved the bill this morning (Dec. 19) by a 32-22 vote. As for the Senate, which passed the bill Dec. 17, all of the support came from Republicans.

A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer said she is likely to sign the bill, but won’t act on it immediately. Instead, her staff will examine the bill over the weekend. She is expected to sign it early next week.

Democrats panned the bill for focusing only on cuts and accused Republican lawmakers of not taking the state’s $1.6 billion deficit seriously because they weren’t willing to examine ways to increase revenues. Relying solely on cuts won’t solve the problem, they said.

The special session was originally intended to give lawmakers another opportunity to forward a three-year, one-cent sales tax increase to the ballot. But that plan fell apart, as did a proposal to let voters decide whether to suspend constitutional protections on voter-approved spending, when the necessary votes in each chamber could not be corralled.

Democrats also criticized the effects the cuts would have on state programs, including the potential closure of the entire state parks system. Minority Whip Chad Campbell said moves like that have made Arizona a “laughingstock” nationally.

“We are putting up a closed-for-business sign in Arizona,” he said.

Republicans defended the cuts, saying the scope of the state’s problems demand continued spending cuts. They painted Democrats as obstructionists who weren’t prepared to do what is necessary to bring the budget back into balance.

“That is political gamesmanship, not statesmanship,” said Rep. Steve Yarbrough, a Chandler Republican. “Refusing to make any cuts strikes me as irresponsible, given the circumstances.”

However, Democrats countered that they weren’t opposed to cuts in principle, just the ones developed by Republican lawmakers with no input from the minority party.

“Voting against specific cuts is different than opposing all cuts,” said Rep. David Schapira, a Tempe Democrat. “Just because we oppose your cuts doesn’t mean we oppose all cuts.”

Rep. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican, said it was impossible for any state agencies to escape budget cuts because of the gravity of the state’s financial problems.

“Everybody’s got to tighten their belts. There are no sacred cows,” he said.

But David Bradley, a Tucson Democrat, said lawmakers need to ensure those belts are tightened “around the waists of those who can afford it, not the necks of those who cannot.”

Some Republicans called for compromise next year, when lawmakers return to work. “We are divided, but there is ‘right’ on both sides,” said Mesa Republican Cecil Ash.

House Speaker Kirk Adams said he would give a Democratic proposal “a fair hearing” if it is presented as legislation.


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