Arizona House gives preliminary OK to budget bill

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2009 6:40 PM

The state House on Friday gave preliminary approval to a bill to trim Arizona's $1.6 billion budget deficit with spending cuts and other changes that Democrats called misguided and Republicans called unavoidable.

"It's delusional to think we can't even do this," said House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who was responding to Democrats' criticism of the Republican-drafted bill during debate on the second day of a special session.

The bill would reduce the revenue shortfall by roughly $195 million, including $74 million in cuts from agencies' general fund allotments through 7.5 percent budget cuts for most agencies. Other provisions include raiding special-purpose funds for dollars to prop up general-fund spending.

The rest of the shortfall would be left for lawmakers to tackle when they return in January for their 2010 regular session.

A formal House vote on the bill was scheduled for Saturday morning, and approval would clear the way for lawmakers to end the special session on its third day. The Senate approved the bill Thursday with Democrats voting against in a party-line vote.

The House was forced to meet Friday and Saturday because its Democratic minority, unlike the Senate's, blocked rule suspensions to permit action in just one day.

Democrats criticized cuts that they said would close the state parks system and cripple programs to protect consumers, train medical doctors and collect taxes.

Legislators must discuss alternatives that would increase state revenue, Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said Friday. "If we fired every state employee, that's $1.3 billion and that's not enough."

Some Republicans who delivered on pledges to their leaders to vote for the bill expressed misgivings.

"I want to see my parks stay open," said Rep. Lucy Mason, R-Prescott.

The bill would permit agencies to reduce employees' pay by up to 5 percent to produce savings forced by the 7.5 percent lump-sum cuts imposed on most state agencies.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's call for the special session included the spending cuts but also two measures that could have been placed on a March 9 special election ballot.

Those proposals, if approved by voters, would temporarily raise the state sales tax by a penny for three years and temporarily loosen constitutional protections for voter-approved spending mandates.

Republican leaders said Wednesday that they had set aside the ballot measures because of misunderstanding on time needed to schedule a special election, and because there wasn't enough support in the House to approve the sales tax referral.

The special session is the fourth this year devoted to the state's budget crisis.