Arizona House Speaker follows through on budget promise

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Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said Tuesday he is committed to following through on his promise to revamp how his chamber negotiates a state budget with the Senate and the governor's office.

Mesnard said he expects appropriations committee and the sub-appropriations committee chairs to begin meeting soon to come up with an initial proposal. That will then be shopped with Republican House members to reach an initial agreement that can get the required 31 votes.
Once that happens, House GOP leadership will begin negotiating with the Senate and governor's office on an agreement for a nearly $10 billion budget for the year starting July 1.

Mesnard's approach revamps one used for years that saw House and Senate leaders negotiating with the governor. They then presented the done deal to members, who were left with little room to negotiate changes and often were pressured to vote on the deal just days after it was announced.
"Leadership's role in negotiating the budget really in my view comes once we know where the House members are on a budget," Mesnard said in an interview. "So it's not going to be the way it has been lately, which is the leadership telling the House members this is the way it's going to be, but the reverse."

Budget negotiations typically start with the governor's proposal, released in early January, and take into account concerns from majority Republicans in the House and Senate. Mesnard promised members when he was elected speaker late last year that he would ditch that process in favor of one where members drive the process.

This year's $9.8 billion proposal from Gov. Doug Ducey includes an additional $114 million above required inflation increases for schools, scattered among more than a dozen initiatives Ducey outlined in his state of the state address. Mesnard said some of those are likely to sell well with members, including Ducey's call for higher teacher salaries. Others, such as an expansion of all-day kindergarten, may be more problematic."There are pots of money going to education, some need to be higher, some lower," Mesnard said. "I suspect the No. 1 priority in K-12 education is teacher salaries."

Other topics likely to be points of negotiation include Ducey's failure to provide local road repair money in his budget, potential opposition to a partial restoration of welfare limits that were cut in 2014, and the governor's plan to let universities borrow $1 billion. A deal on last year's budget was reached in late April.

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