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GOP members of House panel OK budget plan

PHOENIX – House Republicans advanced their budget-balancing proposal Tuesday despite opposition from Democrats and program advocates who said spending cuts and raids on special-purpose funds would damage education, social services and other programs.

GOP supporters of the proposal acknowledged it would cause pain but said sacrifices are needed to tackle a fiscal crisis that could last several years.

“The reality is we’re looking at a $3 billion deficit again next year,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert. “Whatever we don’t fix this year we carry forward next year and compound the deficit.”

The House Appropriation Committee approved the appropriations portion of the Republicans’ 10-bill package on a party line vote.

Normally, the next step would be for leaders to immediately schedule consideration of the plan by the full House.

However, House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, said Monday that committee approval would set the stage for intensified negotiations with Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and the GOP-led Senate. Changes will be made before a final budget is adopted, Adams said.

The House Republicans’ proposal totals nearly $2.8 billion of cuts and other steps. That’s on top of repeating spending cuts made in January in a midyear fix for the current budget.

The committee rejected Democratic proposals to amend the plan by scrapping or reducing cuts to state aid for K-12 schools, assistance for the developmentally disabled, the state’s tax-collection agency, payments to health-care providers and the Attorney General’s Office.

Other amendments to scrap provisions to take money from university auxiliary funds, municipal impact fees and school districts’ reserves also failed.

“There’s so many things wrong with this bill it’s hard deciding what I want to talk about,” said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix. “This budget makes incredibly deep cuts to vital programs that the state provides.”

Some Republican committee members said they were holding their noses to vote for certain elements of the plan.

“But I believe we need to get something on the table for discussion in a meaningful way,” said Rep. Russ Jones, R-Yuma.

Said Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City: “There simply isn’t the money available to fund all of our pet issues.”

Democrats said some of the cuts could be avoided if the state forgoes the Republicans’ planned repeal of the state “equalization” property tax set to take effect again after being suspended three years.

“I am more than willing to have businesses pay their fair share to invest in our state education system,” said Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe.

Republicans said allowing the tax to take effect again would damage the economy.

“This is not the time to go back to higher taxes or to increases the taxes,” said Rep. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale.

However, Biggs and Sinema both said a $85 million provision to freeze a state formula used to set school districts’ property tax rates amounts to a tax increase at the local level.

“I think it is a tax increase,” Biggs said.

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