Legislative Update

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Arizona Capitol Times reporter Jim Small updates us on the latest from the state legislature

Ted Simons: Joining me now with his weekly legislative update is Jim Small; a reporter with "Arizona Capitol Times." Good to have you back here Jim. Boy this university spending, higher education spending and cutting is really taking the forefront as far as the budget debate. We're hearing that universities are looking at furloughs for employees. Give us the latest here.

Jim Small: Yeah, correct, its part of the $100 million basically savings plan that the board of regions came up with that it would affect all three universities. Basically employees are going to be asked to take most of them between ten and twelve days off, unpaid, they are going to try to scatter them throughout, from this point on, through the end of the fiscal year and the school year really which is the end of June. The interesting thing is this $100 billion plan is really only a portion of what would even be in the budgets that are being considered down at the State Capitol. The initial option that was put out, it was like $275 million for the year, for -- $175 million for the universities. And now it's the option that the House of Representatives is looking at is right in the range of $129 million. So a lot less than it was before but still not as low as what the university presidents were hoping for.

Ted Simons: And in deed, and this is all of course part of the budget process and part of the budget process includes what's supposed to be a special session. Now, at the time of our taping, that session has not been called but it's got to happen tonight sometime.

Jim Small: That's the expectation. The republican law makers, that I've spoken with and especially those in leadership, have said that they fully expect a special session to be called tonight by Governor Jan Brewer and what that would allow is, it would allow the legislature to pass a budget fix. And basically as soon as the bill is passed, they would end the session and it would go into effect a lot sooner than if they did it in the regular session; it's really just a way to speed things up and try to get these state savings into effect sooner.

Ted Simons: Is there a budget fix to pass? I mean, are the House and Senate now all simpatico? I don't think so.

Jim Small: No, they're not, you know, at the time that they were taping, like you said, the special session hasn't been called yet and the House and Senate were still trying to work out a number of details between their two budgets and the biggest detail and the biggest difference from what I've been able to gather from people that are close to the situation is there's about $100 million difference in what each group is expecting from the federal government. The House of Representatives is expecting $500 million. The Senate is expecting $400 million and a lot of those cuts; the extra $100 million in cuts in the Senate plan, a lot of them do actually come out of the university system. So you're looking at, those are the big things. There's a couple other minor policy issues that can be ironed out. But it's really what it comes down to is how much are the feds going to give to Arizona.

Ted Simons: Interesting. I know that the cuts to welfare programs are included, cuts to healthcare programs as well. Healthcare is another one of those deals where we really don't know how much needs to be cut because we don't know how much the feds are going to kick in.

Jim Small: Correct and what the Republican plan is banking on is that the $500 million from the federal stimulus is going to have some strings attached to it and it's going to say you need to spend this on healthcare; you need to spend this on healthcare for children and it's going to be certain criteria for it. So essentially, all of the healthcare cuts, the vast majority of the ones that were proposed a few weeks ago are just about off the table in the House plan.

Ted Simons: Okay so Kid's Care, autism funding, even the office of tourism; those things all safe for ‘09?

Jim Small: Some of those I couldn't tell you about whether the budget people have been keeping the budget under wraps so we know some broad strokes as far as how many millions of dollars are going to be taken from certain agencies. But we haven't really seen a lot of the fine detail and, you know some of those issues, Kid's Care for sure is definitely staying in. But, you know, other things, some of the autism programs, some of the other healthcare and welfare stuff, we're not really sure about yet.

Ted Simons: Often you see the House where things are more strident and where it's a little more vox populi down there and the Senate's co moderating influence, am I getting the impression that things are a little topsy-turvy this go around?

Jim Small: Yeah right now a lot of the strife seems to be in the Senate, I know that they have had caucuses this week where there have been on the Republican side members who have been raising vocal opposition to the budget and asking pointed questions and trying to protect items that they feel are very important within state government. Whether it's the Department of Commerce or funding for certain education programs or what have you. And you know, a lot of what's going on, I think, you know, it's just kind of the nature of the beast. You know, you're going to have some strife conflict and the Senate really became a lot more conservative this year than it had been in the past couple years. It's always been in control by the Republicans but the Republicans who were elected this year; I don't think that anyone would argue that they are more fiscally conservative than the ones that they replaced.

Ted Simons: Okay give us a time line now; let's say we got the special session this evening, working toward what?

Jim Small: The idea is to basically pass a budget by Friday--pass a budget fix by Friday. That would be an oddity for lawmakers who generally only work Monday through Thursday down at the Capitol. And they spend the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, you know with their families or in their districts doing whatever work they need to at that level. And you know there have been a couple of people who have said if they can't get it done by Friday, that they will try to get it done on Saturday if they have to. Really what they are shooting for is a February 1st deadline. They want to get everything; they want to get this budget fixed by the end of January, because when February 1st rolls around, they've said the deficit is going to increase by another $160 million.

Ted Simons: Hmm, okay and again this is all going on with more than one eye toward the 2010 budget, correct?

Jim Small: Right, this is, you know as far as most lawmakers are concerned, this is the easy one. The 2010 is going to be big. They're saying it could be more than $3 billion in deficit and if state revenues keep coming in the way they have, who knows where that number could end up?

Ted Simons: Alright well Jim I know you're keeping an eye on it. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Jim Small: Thanks for having me.

Jim Small:Arizona Capitol Times;

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