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Road bumpy for Arizona lawmakers’ budget work

Republican majority in Legislature does not know full impact of U.S. stimulus effort

PHOENIX – The road to a state budget fix is getting bumpy for majority Republicans at the Arizona Legislature.

Senate Republican leaders said Tuesday they’re willing to make assumptions and estimated guesses in order to finish a budget proposal amid unresolved big questions about the availability of federal stimulus money and conditions for using it.

The Senate Republican leaders said their budget work is at a point at which they’re looking for ideas, other than raising taxes, to close the final $500 million or so of the projected roughly $3 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1.

“This is how we don’t get a tax increase,” said Senate Majority Whip Pamela Gorman, R-Anthem.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has proposed that lawmakers use a mix of spending cuts, use of stimulus money and a temporary tax increase to balance the next budget, but lawmakers have balked at raising taxes or asking voters to do so.

Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, and other Republican leaders generally have declined to release specifics of their developing budget plan, saying that would spur premature complaints from supporters of various programs being considered for spending cuts.

Meanwhile, House Appropriations Chairman Jon Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said there’s a new snag regarding $185 million of stimulus money that the state could use for any purpose. The snag includes word from Washington that there may be new conditions attached to the money’s availability, he said.

Kavanagh said that’s a setback to his intention to propose a budget plan by next week. “We’re stalled until we can get clarification from Washington,” he said during an interview.

However, Kavanagh said lawmakers could proceed with building a budget that could include triggers. Triggers used in budgets enacted earlier this decade were contingency provisions that used specified revenue levels to activate certain amounts of spending.

Some GOP senators expressed a willingness to proceed with drafting a budget plan despite uncertainties about the stimulus dollars that are proving to be major elements of lawmakers’ work to balance budgets for this year and next in the face of the recession.

With the difficulty of getting firm, detailed information from Washington, “we’re just going to have to make some assumptions to move forward,” said Gorman, the Senate Republicans’ point person on stimulus matters.

Some rank-and-file GOP senators expressed impatience with the embargo that Burns placed on bills not related to the budget until the budget is passed, but Burns said he’s holding his course. “The budget is the issue and right now the $500 million is the issue,” he said.

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