Legislature passes state budget after all-night debate

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PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona Legislature pulled an all-nighter to pass a $9.1 billion budget Saturday morning over the objections of some lawmakers who wondered what was the rush.

Gov. Doug Ducey was able to swiftly push through a budget deal with the help of Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker David Gowan, despite initial opposition from some fellow Republican lawmakers.

However, House Democrats said the budget was crammed through the Legislature to prevent transparency and oversight.

"I would appreciate if next year we do the budget when the sun is up," said Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe.

On its surface, the spending plan for the year beginning July 1 looked like a victory for the governor, but the revised budget lost much of what Ducey had initially proposed. The deal has no fee increases for vehicle licenses, fewer prison beds, more cuts to universities and more flexibility for K-12 funding.

The budget cuts nearly $100 million from state schools and all the funding for Maricopa and Pima county community colleges, and it increases planned cuts to hospitals and other Medicaid providers from 3 to 5 percent.

Among other issues included in the budget deal:

- A required cut of $123 million in nonclassroom K-12 spending. The budget calls for an increase of $102 million in overall spending, but much of that is required to make up for inflation and increase student counts. Democrats call the plan a net cut in spending.

- Forcing counties to pay 25 percent of the cost of sending a juvenile to the state's lockup. That will cost counties $17 million.

- $20 million in cuts to the Department of Child Safety designed to handle growing caseloads and a backlog of cases.

Republicans argued the cuts were necessary to overcome the state's $717 million structural deficit, according to legislative staffers.

"It isn't with anything other than difficulty we have to make these decisions. At the same time, we have to remind ourselves that in two years or three years there might not be any kind of program in which we can provide programs to families," said Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park.

Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said the state needs to find creative ways to generate revenue such as a proposal to take back Arizona's lands from the federal government and use them to provide income.

Democrats argued that cutting education has a long-term negative effect on Arizona's students, families and economy while increased funding would create a more skilled-workforce and ultimately bring in more revenue.

"Education is an investment. A little money in here means we will have contributing members to the economy for a lifetime," said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.

Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said the adopted budget is not in the best interest of the state.

"It's not balanced and not living within our means, we pass the burden to counties, cities, schools, hospitals, universities, and the back of middle-class Arizona families and the poor."

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