Arizona gov signs bills to eliminate $2B deficit

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2009 11:09 AM

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation to eliminate about a quarter of the state's nearly $2 billion midyear budget deficit, as she and lawmakers acknowledged that the action was only a start.

"These cuts that we're making today barely make a dent in the problem," said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

The three budget bills Brewer signed Monday include $292.6 million of spending cuts, plus funding shifts and other changes to bring the total savings to $452 million. The spending cuts target funding for K-12 schools' equipment purchases and Department of Economic Security social services.

The Legislature adjourned its special session after passing the bills.

Votes Monday on the main spending bill were along party lines in the House and nearly so in the Senate, where one Republican joined Democrats in voting against it.

Numerous Democrats joined Republicans in voting for another bill that diverts money and authorizes state agencies to increases fees so they can keep operating.

Democrats said they acknowledged spending cuts are needed but said they wouldn't support them without more comprehensive action.

"We're not considering what has to be one-half of the equation, and that's revenue," said Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.

Republicans scoffed, saying Democrats hadn't shown a willingness to support any cuts.

"It takes courage to cut back on your government and it's much easier to just vote no," said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake.

Senate approval of the spending cuts came after hours of delay as Republicans negotiated possible changes with Democrats. However, Republicans dropped that effort when a GOP senator who skipped Thursday's floor session _ when votes were originally scheduled _ had a change of heart and voted with his GOP colleagues Monday.

That gave Republicans the bare majority of 16 needed for passage by the 30-member Senate.

One Republican, Sen. Ron Gould of Lake Havasu City, voted against the cuts but said that was only because he couldn't support the companion bill to authorize several agencies to increase fees.

"I have to stand on principle," Gould said. "I have absolutely no problem with cutting budgets."

Brewer said the bills she signed Monday "have begun the beginning of addressing the $2 billion deficit that Arizona faces."

Brewer vetoed larger versions of the spending cuts Sept. 4 when she rejected parts of a budget approved by the Legislature during a previous special session.

She had called the earlier versions unacceptable but said Monday she was willing to sign the newer, smaller versions into law because she hadn't yet succeeded in winning legislative approval to ask voters for temporary sales tax increase.

"Reality sets in," Brewer said.

She said the state still needs additional revenue, however.

Brewer and legislative leaders said they will meet next Monday to set a course for more budget-balancing action, including a possible December special session.

Actions under consideration include more spending cuts, borrowing against future lottery revenues, and moving forward with a temporary sales tax increase.