The Week (at the Arizona Capitol): March 24-28

The week was all about the budget negotiations. Almost everything screeched to a halt as representatives in the House worked behind the scenes to produce a budget that would fly.

On Monday, a debate raged from the early afternoon until 9 p.m.. But knowing that he didn’t have the votes to pass the budget, Speaker Andy Tobin (R-Paulden) postponed the hearing of the bill until the next day. The next day, a deal still hadn’t been struck, so the bills were postponed  until Wednesday.  Wednesday they still hadn’t struck a deal, so they postponed the bills till Thursday.

While the House argued over money, the Senate Appropriations Committee heard 26 more bills that could find their way into the budget next Tuesday.

The highlights: A strike-everything bill that would allow the governor to enter an interstate compact to create a physical or virtual fence on the border passed, 8-1.  It is a changed version of an earlier bill that would have appropriated $30 million for the project, which was stuck in committee.

A bill that would provide cities hosting major events a reimbursement for 50 percent of the costs of public safety passed through the committee unanimously. The bill is strongly supported by the city of Glendale, who will be hosting the Super Bowl next year.

The most controversial bill, however, was SB 1494, which would require school boards to find an independent entity to cover charter schools in their districts. The bill stems from the moderates in the House pushing back against a  ban against public schools converting charters in the budget. The bill narrowly passed 5-4.

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Six Republicans walked down to the press room in the League of Cities and Towns to express their dissatisfaction over the stalled budget negotiations on Wednesday.

The group of six, made up of Rep. Ethan Orr (R-Tucson), Rep. Bob Robson (R-Chandler), Rep. Jeff Dial (R-Chandler), Rep. Douglas Coleman (R-Apache Junction), Rep. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix) and Rep. Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek), had just rejected a counter-offer to their budget proposal that they felt didn’t meet the state’s needs.
“I think when one side is reaching out, giving you the best offer, and the other side comes back and is playing games and basically says no to everything, basically, then, it’s a problem.” Dial said.

The negotiations stalled because of the differences among priorities of the six moderates and of the conservative faction of the Republican party. The priorities of the moderates is funding for Child Protective Services and K-12 education.

“I truly believe that education, like I say, is an economic development issue that makes us a stronger state, is business friendly and I’m ready to stand up for it,” Coleman said.

With enough votes to block the current budget, the group says that they’re waiting until they get a reasonable counteroffer from the other side of the party.

“I would be at the negotiating table any time they want to sit down and negotiate in good faith,” Dial said. “When they’re not negotiating in good faith then negotiations are over until they want to come back in good faith.”

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On Thursday, those tensions evaporated. The House stood at a stalemate for most of the day, but by the early evening, the Republicans had struck a deal and took the House into the Committee of the Whole and a third read on the budget.

Rolling out bills with 35 amendments on them, the House settled in for a long floor session that would last most of the night.

The most common appropriations were those to Department of Economic Security for various child services. Rep. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix) proposed five amendments in order to get more money for child welfare in the Department of Economic Security.

All of the Democrats’ amendments to add money to the budget were swiftly voted down, including one from Rep. Martin Quezada (D-Phoenix) that attempted to appropriate money to back the common core.  Another amendment, by Rep. Eric Meyer (D-Paradise Valley), attempted to add $39 million of additional assistance to school districts. Rep. Lela Alston (D-Phoenix) attempted to get $2.2 million to restore domestic violence services but was voted down.

Instead the money was appropriated in Rep. John Kavanagh’s (R-Fountain Hills) amendment to the bill. The amendment ignored the wishes of the Democrats, and added slightly less than what Brophy McGee and other Republicans were asking for.  Rep. Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) was not happy about it, saying:  “I still don’t think this is anywhere near enough of an investment in terms of what we need to be doing for the state.”

Kavanagh appropriated $900,000 to private prisons and several million to various DES services.

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Rep. Bruce Wheeler (D-Tucson) attempted to get 15 million for the University of Arizona discovery and innovation, but was shut down.

Rep. T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge) had attempted to get $4.2 million for a veterinary program for the University of Arizona. The amendment was skipped over and was not discussed in the Committee of the Whole, leaving the money out of the budget — and the U.A. without a veterinary program.

An amendment to increase the Cooperative Extension funding for the University of Arizona from $2.5 million to $3.5 million passed through the Committee of the Whole. It was the only amendment dealing with higher education that passed. Rep. Ethan Orr (R-Tucson) voted against every one of the budget bills because he was not happy with the lack of funding for the U.A.

A floor amendment by Rep. Carl Seel (R- Phoenix) was adopted with applause from his colleagues (Seel rarely gets anything passed). The amendment made it so that the money appropriated for testing could only be used for AIMS testing until a new test is enacted by law or approved by the Legislature.

Despite the Democrats calling for a roll call vote on every one of their amendments to get the Republicans “on the record,” the bill passed,  giving a tentative approval for the budget until the third read.

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Those amendments were just on the main budget bill. Scattered among the other bills were various amendments that carried the session well into the night.  In the health and welfare part of the budget bill, Kavanagh added an amendment that allowed for Medicaid coverage of podiatry services, emergency dental care and orthotic devices.

The education portion of the bill as amended by Kavanagh mostly removed restrictions put on by the senate. It was the only amendment to the bill that was passed.

By 11:30 p.m, they finally passed the last budget bill, effectively sending it back to the Senate. But not before many members shared their thoughts on the deal they’s just made.

“I thought this year may be different,” Campbell said. “So is this the worst budget I’ve seen pass out of here in my eight years? No. But it’s not the best. It’s not doing the job.”

The Republicans did not agree.

“Do we see a perfect budget? Obviously not,” said Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) “But are we trying to move Arizona forward and better our nation? Absolutely.”

The Senate first read the budget on Friday morning, which means they’ll debate the bill early next week.

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