Arizona House has votes for budget, Senate short

Posted: Updated:

Arizona House Majority Leader John Allen said Thursday he has secured enough Republican votes in his chamber to pass a $9.8 billion state budget package and he believes a massive university loan plan also has enough GOP votes to pass.

But Senate President Steve Yarbrough said that he's still short of the votes for the $1 billion university construction and building maintenance package to pass without Democratic support.

"I do not have 16 Republican votes on the bonding package as we stand here right now," Yarbrough said late Thursday morning. He said he was working to get some backing from minority Democrats to secure passage, but had not yet succeeded.

The 11 bills that make up the budget plan are set for debate and votes in both chambers Thursday. Both chambers plan to push through the budget package no matter how long it takes - even if they go well into Friday morning. The university bonding package is the most contentious.

Democrats are opposed to the budget and the bonding because it includes only a 2 percent teacher raise over two years and doesn't include restoration of welfare cuts Ducey pushed through in 2015.

"They actually have to justify $1 billion in bonding for universities when we're being sued for not ensuring that K-12 schools aren't falling apart," House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios said. "Teacher pay is 50th in the nation. In terms of priorities, university bonding falls well below No 1 and 2, and that's teacher pay and ensuring that the classrooms our kids are in aren't falling apart."

House leaders worked throughout Wednesday to overcome opposition from members to the bonding proposal, even adding an $11 million per year income tax cut to sweeten the deal. Allen said Thursday he believes all 35 Republicans back the 10 budget bills and he believed he had the 31 Republicans needed for the university proposal.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard was more circumspect, saying changes were still being made to the bonding package to garner support in the senate.

"I believe we have the support in the House," he said. "I just know that when you're teetering on the edge people can fall off, people can jump on. I feel pretty good, but I'm not going to say definitively."

The opposition among some Republicans to the proposal to let the university issue 25-year construction bonds falls into several categories. Some believe the universities are overfunded now or have raised tuition too much. Others believe there's not enough legislative oversight in the package, although project review was added.

"The main concern I have with the bonding package is it's hard to understand what the money will be used for," Gilbert Republican Rep. Travis Grantham said. "Yeah, there's some checks and balances in place that the House should have some oversight. But you've got to remember the House turns over; every couple of years there 20 or so new members.