Updated Mar 24, 2014 - 9:27 pm
$9.2 billion budget facing tough House vote
PHOENIX -- A budget deal in the Arizona House of Representatives was on tenuous ground Monday evening as Republican Speaker Andy Tobin worked to overcome opposition from members of his own party to a $9.2 billion budget that the Senate passed last week.
Tobin halted debate on a health and welfare portion of the bill to meet privately with the same group of Republicans who backed Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion last year.
The members appeared ready to vote down the budget Monday night before Tobin called them into his office and suspended debate.
The House had been set to vote on the deal early Monday afternoon, but after a brief floor session members adjourned to allow Tobin and other GOP House leaders to try to negotiate a deal to break the logjam. They were trying to allay concerns from fellow GOP members on several fronts, including rural highway funding, child welfare and state tax cuts that will affect county revenues.
Six hours later, the House returned and began debating nine budget bills and dozens of proposed amendments before Tobin called the break. The House had been scheduled to debate and vote on a $9.2 billion spending plan for the coming budget year early Monday afternoon. But as delays mounted, it became clear that members could be called to work into Tuesday morning to try to pass a budget.
The budget plan passed the Senate on a party-line vote with majority Republicans backing the plan authored by Senate President Andy Biggs.
Some House Republicans were upset because the budget plan excluded their priorities how the budget was revealed without more House input.
"This process and what's in it is just a mess," said Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek.
Carter declined to provide details of her concerns, but it is known that money to overhaul the state's broken child welfare system falls short of what Gov. Jan Brewer wants. And other House GOP priorities also come up short, including enough highway money and money for water infrastructure, among others.
Several members said the biggest issue was a retroactive ban on public school districts converting schools to charter schools that was included in the Senate-passed budget. Districts get more per-student funding for charters.
The House Appropriations Committee approved the package of nine bills Monday morning along party lines, and the full House is set to take it up the bill in the afternoon. Committee Chairman Rep. John Kavanagh said last week that he was encouraged by the ease with which the budget came out of the Senate and the governor's support for most of the package.
Brewer's chief of staff, Scott Smith, said last week that there was still one major sticking point and several smaller ones keeping her from fully supporting the plan. Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said Monday those concerns still exist.
Monday morning's committee hearing didn't expose any issues among majority Republicans, with all votes for the package coming with 7-4 GOP majorities. Amendments offered to House budget bills essentially aligned them with what the Senate passed, with two minor exceptions.
The House needs 31 votes to pass a bill, and Republicans control 36 seats. So at least six Republicans would need to join Democrats in opposition to stop the budget from passing.
If the budget fails, it would set the stage for more negotiations that could take days or weeks to conclude.