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No more ‘feeling our way in the dark’

Kirk Adams (Photo by Jim Small)

Kirk Adams (Photo by Jim Small)

Despite the challenge of erasing budget deficits estimated at $5 billion for the next two fiscal years, House Speaker Kirk Adams said lawmakers now are more fully equipped to handle the problems.

For instance, lawmakers know how much federal assistance will be in place and they’ve already gone through a year of budget discussions.

In the end, he said, those factors will lead to a speedier resolution.

He said one big question still remains: What level of spending cuts will Democrats be willing to support?

Has your working relationship with Governor Jan Brewer improved?

Yeah, I think so.

In what ways?

I think since the change in (Brewer’s) chief of staff, there’s more communication, which is a good thing. It’s been a positive change.

Let’s talk about how you go about getting the majority of votes needed to pass a budget. Can you do that with just Republicans this year, like you did last year?

Time will tell, but that’s not our goal. We’d like to have participation from our Democratic colleagues. They have some ideas, especially about (increasing) revenue. I don’t know that it’s possible to get 31 (House) Republicans on a revenue vote.

What revenue ideas of theirs do think may be possible to work together on?

We don’t know enough about their ideas to say definitively, but broadening the sales tax base concept seems to be one.

They have expressed some openness at times in supporting a sales tax referral, but they have some specific needs in that regard that need to be fleshed out.

Is that something that has to be done through a hearing in the Appropriations Committee, or could it be done by bringing Democratic leadership to the negotiating table and going through their plan in detail?

I think it’s most appropriately done through the Appropriations hearing process, because, first off, that’s where we’ve always wanted to go in the first place. We’ve made strides toward more involvement of the Appropriations Committee, and we need to make more.

But also because there can be very little misunderstanding. It’s harder to come out of an Appropriations Committee hearing that’s been open and covered by the press and (viewed by) the public, and have two different stories of what happened. I think we saw that with some of the negotiations we’ve had with the Democrats, particularly in July. I don’t think that’s healthy.

It seems politically motivated to ask Democrats to create budget bills, so they can get beat up in a committee hearing and on the floor. It seems like it is designed to demonstrate there’s no support for Democratic ideas, which means the Republican ideas are better. Am I wrong?

Yes. That’s what the legislative process is. You have a bill, it goes to committee, there’s a vetting process that occurs in public. We are at the point in our budget process where we need the participation of the entire membership. The Democrats, in our opinion, haven’t been full participants.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a cut of only $200 million or a cut of $600 million – there’s been no support. When the sales tax (ballot referral) was going to go up completely clean, the way they wanted it, they don’t come on and support it.

We need to know exactly what they’re going to do, because this is not a Republican legislative problem. This is a state of Arizona problem.

Can you expect them to vote for budget bills when they weren’t involved in crafting them?

That’s what we envision here. In reality, will the budget plan they drop pass with 31 and 16? I don’t know. I don’t know of a Republican proposal that would pass in its original form. But will there be major (Democratic) elements that will be included in the final package?
Yeah, I think so. But we have to know what that is.

For example, what is the level of cuts that they are willing to support? That directly affects what the revenues are going to have to be. It all works together. I can’t tell if a revenue program works without knowing what cuts they’re willing to support.

Would a special election also include Proposition 105 reform?

I think it has to. It takes voter-protection reform. Even if we are able to get new revenues, the deficit is so large that, if you aren’t able to reduce expenses even further or use some of the voter- protected dollars to supplant some of the cuts, then we’re going to have a hard time reaching a balanced budget.

Is the plan to try to get a budget package done before that special election? There has been some talk about a budget in which the spending and cuts are triggered by the outcomes of that election.

That is something we’ve discussed. I think we all share a goal – I know the governor does, as well – that we should be done as quickly as we can. The sooner we get done, the more we can give the affected budget units time to prepare.

One of the big downsides to last year’s budget was the lateness with which it was passed. The predictability those affected budget units had was really not there. It didn’t help them to get the information so late in the game.

Given the size of the problem – nearly $5 billion over two budget years – is it possible to finish that quickly? It took until August last year.

Last year, we didn’t have the details of the federal stimulus money until late May. We didn’t have the rules from the federal government until early April. Those dollars were a big complicating factor.

And we’ve been through a lot of the possible options already. We have fewer things to choose from. A lot of ideas have been vetted or researched and been proven not to work for various reasons.

I truly feel like, now we’re not feeling our way in the dark.

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