Arizona lawmakers work late to finalize budget, end session

PHOENIX — State lawmakers were working late Friday in an effort to put the finishing touches on an $11.8 billion spending plan and to finally wrap up a legislative session that already has gone a month beyond its deadline.

Key elements of the plan are in place, including money for the next step in the 20% raise for teachers promised last year by Gov. Doug Ducey and lawmakers. There also are additional dollars for some career and technical education programs.

And schools will no longer have to wait until they already are overcrowded to seek state funds for new buildings.

Disputes remain, however, over what some say is the failure to put more dollars into programs designed to train doctors and place them in underserved rural areas.

On the revenue side of the equation, Democrats have so far been unable to undermine plans by Republicans to cut income taxes by about $325 million. That is money that proponents of the plan say simply acknowledges the additional dollars being generated from Arizonans from changes in federal tax law as well as the fact Arizona now plans to impose its sales tax on online sales.

But Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is leading an effort to revamp how those tax cuts are structured.

He contends that they favor those near the bottom of the income scale. But the flip side of that, Mesnard said, is that many Arizonans who are being hit hard by the changes in federal tax law are not going to be made whole by the proposed changes in the state tax code.

Mesnard said he and his allies are prepared to withhold their vote for the plan until the tax package is reconfigured.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said the process cannot be rushed.

“One day at a time, one step forward,” she said. And that, said Fann, means corralling the votes among lawmakers who want one thing or the other in the spending plan.

“This is always a tough time every year that we do budgets,” she said. “It’s a lot of stress, the end of the session.”

Even after Republicans settle issues among themselves, Democrats are expected to make a last-ditch effort to add additional spending priorities into the package. That includes immediate restoration of the state aid to schools that was cut during the recession, increasing dollars for subsidized child care for the working poor and adding more cash to programs to help the homeless.

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