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House approps chair says budget hearings next week

PHOENIX -- Discord among majority Republicans over spending levels in Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin's state budget proposal and absent members have combined to delay House hearings that had been set for Thursday until next week.

Republican Rep. John Kavanagh said Wednesday the Appropriations Committee he chairs is now expected to take up the $8.8 billion state budget passed by the Senate three weeks ago as early as Monday with a vote by the full House later in the week.

He also said there's no way a Senate-approved provision expanding Medicaid that Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is insisting upon will make it out of his committee. Kavanagh opposes the plan to add 300,000 Arizonans to the state's health care plan for the poor under provisions of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

``So it will be up to Democrats and (Medicaid-) friendly Republicans to amend Medicaid expansion onto the bill on the floor,'' he said.

Although the GOP controls both the House and Senate, a handful of moderate Republicans are expected to join all Democrats in the House to tack it onto the budget, as happened in the Senate.

Tobin failed in his effort to get the Medicaid provision changed to his liking and is still opposed. He had initially hoped that Kavanagh's committee would take up the Senate budget with his revisions on Thursday, pass it and set up a vote by the full House on Friday. But with conservative Republicans opposed to the level of spending in the budget and members having plans for a long weekend because lawmakers haven't been working on Fridays, he had to rearrange the schedule.

``We're still trying to get it right,'' Tobin said. ``I'm part of that conservative (group.) I think the budget that I've even presented is too high. However, that's part of governing, you have to find where's the happy medium.''

Conservative House Republicans revolted when they saw the $8.78 billion spending plan Tobin rolled out Tuesday, which cut about $17 million from the Senate budget package but still left a structural deficit of nearly $400 million financed by state reserves. Tobin stripped out Democratic provisions adding money for child care services and other spending but added two ``economic development'' bills that cut taxes. He also stripped out money to begin a school-performance funding plan Brewer wants.

Conservatives want a balanced budget.

``There's a debate in the Republican party about which is the best way to do the budget and which is the best way to do Medicaid expansion,'' said Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, who is among the group pushing lower spending. ``And there's a big difference. But the majority of the majority, so a majority of the Republicans, are not happy with the budget. And we want a better budget and we think Medicaid should be a separate bill and that's what we're asking for.''

The delay heaps more pressure on the Legislature because the current budget expires at the end of the month. Any budget package that changes the Senate-approved package and passes the House will have to return to the Senate, and that is expected, Tobin said. That chews up time and will leave little wiggle room if the budget hits a snag.

Livingston also is pushing for a separate vote on Medicaid expansion outside the budget.

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