Arizona lawmakers approve $1.1 billion in budget cuts

April 2, 2011

by Mary Jo Pitzl -The Arizona Republic

The 2012 Arizona budget, heavy with cuts but light on gimmicks, will make a lasting imprint on residents, services and the economy, both advocates and critics say.

For supporters, especially the Republican majority in the Legislature, the fiscal 2012 budget is a major step toward ending the state’s recent cycle of ongoing deficits and debt financing. It puts the budget on stable footing and will open a new, positive chapter for Arizona’s economy, they say.

But critics, from city and county officials to parents and advocates for the poor, say the budget’s $1.1 billion in cuts and shifts to local governments will write a sad sequel to several years of belt-tightening in the state.

The Legislature gave final approval Friday to an $8.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It’s on its way to Gov. Jan Brewer, who is expected to sign it next week.

The House passed the budget early Friday, capping nearly 17 hours of on-again, off-again work that dragged on overnight. The Senate followed nine hours later.

Republicans cast the vote as a turning point for Arizona’s fiscal fortunes.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that Arizona has turned the page,” said Rep. Ted Vogt, R-Tucson.

But Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, saw it differently.

“If you’re turning a new page today, I guess we’re turning from a scary story to a horrible nightmare,” Patterson said.

The budget contains $1.1 billion in spending cuts, doubling in one year the reductions Brewer has overseen through three budget cycles.

For the first time in years, it contains no new borrowing. It does not raise taxes.

It cuts deeply into the state’s Medicaid program but restores funding for medical transplants – a point Democrats heatedly dispute. Despite claims that it has no accounting gimmicks to meet the constitutional obligation to balance the budget, it defers $313 million in payments to the universities and the Medicaid program and pushes costs for programs ranging from Highway Patrol to the parks onto local governments.

Brewer has until the end of next week to sign the budget, veto it, let it go into law without her signature or line-item veto certain items. But given her key role in negotiating it, her signature is expected.
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