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Sitting around?: Budget work slows down Arizona legislature

The Associated Press

PHOENIX — Some lawmakers are complaining about sitting around with little to do at the Arizona State Capitol. Committee hearings have been far and few for weeks and debate on bills rarely occurs.

“A few people in leadership at the top are sitting in rooms, with the door closed, deciding the future of Arizona,” said Rep David Schapira, D-Tempe. “The rest of us are just down here for show.”

The lack of legislative results is intentional.

Senate President Bob Burns is holding up the legislative process so that lawmakers can tackle the state’s budget deficit.

In other words, no budget, no bills.

The estimated shortfall for 2010 totals about $3 billion and is considerably more difficult to solve since reserves already have been tapped and state agencies are weary from multiple rounds of budget cuts.

Burns acknowledged that “members come here to pass bills,” and has pledged to set aside time for regular legislation once a budget deal is reached.

But the Peoria Republican called the budget deal “the critical issue” facing the state, and said he has no regrets about holding up the legislative process.

Gov. Jan Brewer and her staff agree with Burns. “Nothing’s more important to the citizens of Arizona than addressing our budget deficit,” said Paul Senseman, a Brewer spokesman.

Some lawmakers worry the legislative session will end with many of the 1,000 pending measures not receiving serious consideration or — potentially worse — being rushed through the process with little scrutiny at all.

“It’s definitely the most unproductive session,” said Sen. Ken Cheuvront, a Phoenix Democrat. “It’s ridiculous we’re starting the fourth month of our session, and there’s nothing to show for it. That’s unconscionable.”

At this point in the session a year ago, former Gov. Janet Napolitano had vetoed four bills and signed 17.

So far this year, seven bills have been signed with six approved as part of the 2009 budget fix.

“This is a huge problem we’re dealing with. This is a historic deficit,” said House Speaker Kirk Adams, a Mesa Republican.

“We’re working as fast as we possibly can on the budget.”

Adams disputed the notion that nothing is going on at the Capitol.

“That’s simply not true. There’s a lot of action,” Adams said. “Members are conducting research. They’re sitting down with staff and agency directors. They’re trying to collect as much information as they can so they can make an informed decision (on the budget).”

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