Arizona Senate moving budget bills quickly

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm •  Published: May 15, 2013

Sen. Anna Tovar, the ranking Democrat on the committee, is troubled by those provisions. She also objected to a provision in the health and welfare bill that stops funding for some organ transplants.

"Those transplants do work, and they do save lives," Tovar said.

Other areas of debate Wednesday revolved around school funding. Democrats and some Republicans want more, arguing cuts in recent tight budget years have left schools short as lawmakers demand more accountability.

"The funding hasn't been real for the last five years. At some point, we have to say the emperor doesn't have any clothes," said Republican Sen. Don Shooter of Yuma.

The proposal would increase per-pupil spending by nearly 2 percent, from $3,268 to $3,326. The increase reflects a mandatory inflation adjustment that was approved by voters and that has been ignored by lawmakers in recent years. It likely won't result in an increase in funding, however, because the bill also reduces other revenue streams after years of education budget cuts, said Stacey Morley, director of policy development and government affairs with the state Department of Education.

"Obviously, the schools are pretty concerned with the permanent loss of funding," she said.

The legislation also calls for a three-year pilot program on online English instruction for students who speak another language. Critics say the state's English education programs are insufficient.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Yuma, said overall education funding has remained in the range of $9,000 per student for years, when state, local and federal funds are combined.

"We've always done our level best to get to that figure," he said.

Higher education spending is slated to increase by $11 million. Health and welfare spending will decrease by $43 million, with a projected $110 million increase in 2015 and a $231 million increase in 2016.

Democrats also complained about a special $1.6 million appropriation for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office from a gang and immigration enforcement fund, saying the office should apply for the money like other counties must. Mike Williams, a lobbyist for the Arizona Police Association, said he requested the money in the budget because deputies need new equipment.

The Senate spending plan for the budget year beginning July 1 is about $100 million less than initially requested by Brewer.