State Capitol News
5:00 am
Tue February 21, 2012

AZ GOP Lawmakers Ditch Governor's Budget

Republican lawmakers are unveiling their spending plan this morning. 

The $8.6 billion spending plan for the new fiscal year is more than $200 million less than Gov. Jan Brewer wants. And the biggest loser at this point appears to be K-12 education. Brewer had proposed significant increases in public school funding, saying the state is finally in the black. Don Shooter who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee said it is true that the state is collecting more now than it spends. But he said that does not consider the fact that the temporary one-cent sales tax voters approved in 2010 disappears June 1st of 2013 -- along with the billion dollars a year it brings in, money that currently puts the state in the black. He said GOP lawmakers want to put money in the bank to be ready to deal with that.

"All of us understand that it's a very austere budget," he said. "And there's certainly not very many bells and whistles to an extent. We're still asking people that if you've made it last year, try to make it one more year and we'll see what the good Lord brings, because things could go south very quickly."

Shooter said it's far better to budget conservatively and add back spending if the economy continues to improve than to build a spending plan on what he believes are overly optimistic projections. But gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said lawmakers are losing sight of the real needs of the state.

"The governor understands the need to budget conservatively," said Benson.  "And she has. But with the legislative plan refusing to fund critical education needs during times of budget surplus isn't conservative, it's short sighted."

Shooter disagreed. He said the loss of that penny of sales tax is only one of the problems looming for the state out there that could send the budget over the edge.

"You have the second cliff which is Obamacare," he said. "And not the state people, nor the federal people, can put a price tag on it. They can't tell you what it's going to cost."

That federal health care law will require Arizona and other states to expand their health coverage for the poor beginning in 2014. And Shooter also said then there's the possibility of a double-dip recession which could once again knock the bottom out of the state's revenues. Shooter said a no-growth budget is the best long-term solution. But Benson said his boss is more focused on the short term -- and immediate -- needs of the state.

"Housing maximum security inmates in lower-security facilities or forcing the termination of 73 DPS officers isn't conservative. It's reckless," he said"

Shooter said there is some room to negotiate with the governor over her spending priorities. And he said that, being married to a teacher, he is particularly sensitive to the needs of public schools.

But he said Brewer should not count on lawmakers making major changes to the plan.

"If we restore, it will be with a thimble, not a bucket," he predicted. "If we cut, it will be with a scalpel, not an ax. So there may be little tweaks here and there. But in general, we're just asking people, it's a steady as she goes budget."

But Benson said much of the legislative plan is simply not acceptable without major changes.

"Their budget doesn't include the $100 million for building renewal for schools, it doesn't include the $100 million for soft capital," he pointed out. "Nothing for the university growth, the $15 million. No additional money for community colleges."

Benson also complained that the legislative budget plan not only ignores Brewer's request to increase funding for tourism promotion but actually abolishes the state Office of Tourism entirely. The first hearings on the legislative spending plan start today.