Ariz Senate to move budget as Medicaid fight looms

Ariz Senate to move budget as Medicaid fight looms

Ariz Senate to move budget as Medicaid fight looms

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by Bob Christie, Associated Press

azfamily.com

Posted on May 14, 2013 at 4:46 PM

PHOENIX (AP) -- Legislation to fund state operations for the budget year beginning July 1 was introduced Tuesday in the Arizona Senate and could come up for a vote later this week, clearing the way for a debate on Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion, The Associated Press has learned.

Senate President Andy Biggs said the 10 bills will move through the Appropriations Committee and should reach the Senate floor on Thursday.

The bills don't include Medicaid expansion, which is expected to be tacked on as a floor amendment. That would result in a debate on Medicaid expansion in the Senate, a long-awaited move on the Republican governor's top priority for 2013.

"Let's see if they can get it on," said Biggs, an opponent of the plan to add 300,000 poor Arizonans to the state's Medicaid program. "I expect there to be a contentious floor debate."

Brewer's proposed expansion has divided the party and prompted a stalemate as lawmakers have yet to take up Medicaid, Brewer's sales tax overhaul or the budget despite being more than four months into the session.

Some Republicans are strongly opposed to Brewer's plan to expand the state's Medicaid program, calling it a huge government growth that runs counter to their core conservative values.

It's broadly supported by minority Democrats, but one of the bills introduced as part of the budget package infuriated them and possibly threatened their support.

That bill is a mishmash of elections bills that have been held up in the House and Senate, all firmly opposed by Democrats who say they are an attack on voter rights.

Sen. Steve Gallardo said the election bill is so worrisome that Democrats may choose not to support Medicaid.

The dispute prompted Brewer to tell lawmakers last week not to send her any more bills until there was significant progress on the budget.

Now it appears there is finally progress. If the Senate approves the measure, it would send the budget to the House, where Medicaid expansion remains uncertain. Republican House Speaker Andy Tobin could serve as a major roadblock to the legislation.

"The Senate is attempting to pass out a budget to the House, something they believe the House and the governor can support," said House Appropriations Chairman, Rep. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican who opposes the proposed Medicaid expansion.

If the expansion is included, Kavanagh said, "I guess we'll finally have a vote on Medicaid and if it goes down we'll go home."

House Speaker Tobin said he met with Biggs last week and there was some question about whether they could get the budget out this week with Medicaid expansion. He said Brewer has twice rejected proposals that excluded Medicaid expansion.

He was unaware that the budget bills had been introduced and would go to the floor Thursday.

"I have not seen this budget. I don't know what's in it, but I assume it looks a lot like what we prepared together," he said. "It's more valuable if you have the House and the President and the governor together."

Tobin said there aren't enough votes in the House to pass Brewer's Medicaid plan.

The budget Biggs unveiled Tuesday includes almost as much spending as Brewer asked for, and included money for more Child Protective Service Workers, a boost in K-12 school spending to account for inflation and money for

The spending plan is about $8.9 billion for the 2014 fiscal year.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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