PHOENIX -- The Arizona House of Representatives has scheduled a debate and final vote on a $9.2 billion spending plan for the coming budget year next week, a move signaling Republican leaders believe they have the votes to approve the plan.
The House Appropriations Committee has set hearings for Monday morning, and the full House will debate and is set to vote on the budget package in the afternoon.
The rapid-fire action comes after the Senate passed the budget late Thursday just four days after the nine-bill package was introduced. Senate President Andy Biggs said he's confident it will win support from Gov. Jan Brewer.
But Brewer's chief of staff said late Thursday she still has issues preventing her from fully embracing the budget plan.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he believes the chances are good the bills can win approval.
``We feel pretty confident,'' Kavanagh said. ``I personally haven't polled every member. But the fact that it has enough votes in the Senate, the governor likes it, seems to bode well for a productive Monday.''
The House is substituting all but two of its own budget bills with the ones passed by the Senate. One of the two that remains is identical to the Senate version, and the other tracks projected revenue. That implies the only amendments the House plans are on those two bills, and the Senate would only have to re-vote on those two for the whole package to head to Brewer's desk.
The Senate-passed budget spends about $175 million less than Brewer wanted, with cuts to her school-performance funding plan, school broadband and child-welfare spending plans, among other changes.
Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said Friday that there are still issues with the budget. Chief of Staff Scott Smith said late Thursday that the Legislature and governor were very close to an agreement that would get Brewer fully on board. But he said one major issue and several smaller ones were preventing her from giving the plan her complete support. Smith would not specify the issues.
Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said he made changes in his proposal to get both the House and the governor on board, and Kavanagh said Friday he wasn't aware of any major sticking points.
Passing a budget is the main responsibility of the Legislature each year, and once it is adopted lawmakers typically rush to finish other bills and adjourn.
The one major outstanding issue is the legal creation of a stand-alone child welfare agency Brewer wants. She ordered Child Protective Services pulled from its parent agency in January and created a Cabinet-level post to oversee it after more than 6,500 uninvestigated abuse and neglect reports were revealed in November.
A group of lawmakers and others are working with Brewer's staff to write legislation to make that executive order permanent and expect to release it by May 1, although it could come earlier. Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin said this week that they could adjourn and come back for a special session to pass legislation creating the new department if needed to avoid unnecessarily dragging out the regular session.
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