Gould, McLain split on state fee hikes
Arizona budget remains in limbo when special session votes fail
KINGMAN - Arizona Senate Republicans were surprised Thursday when they came up one vote short on two budget bills that would have cut more than $300 million from education and social services. A third bill passed Thursday. Both houses of the Legislature have continued the special session to Monday.
Gov. Jan Brewer called a fourth special session of the Legislature on Tuesday after meeting with leadership from both the House and the Senate.
Both Senate and House Republican leaders thought they had the votes to pass the bill, said Sen. Ron Gould of Mohave County.
The Senate leadership knew that one senator was away on a cruise and expected Gould to vote against the bills.
"I considered the three bills a package. The bill that passed gave department directors the authority to set fees for their departments," Gould said. "I think a $130 million increase in fees is a bad idea in a recession. I told them I wasn't going to vote for it."
According to the bill, the fees would have allowed state agencies to fund themselves and allowed the state to use other funds for other departments.
Gould called the fee increases a tax hike on businesses and taxpayers. However, he told Senate leadership he was willing to vote for the bills if the fee authority was removed.
What the Senate leadership wasn't expecting was for Sen. Thayer Verschoor of Gilbert to be absent at Thursday's vote.
According to the Associated Press, Verschoor also opposed giving departments the authority to increase fees.
Gould wasn't impressed with the spending cuts in all three bills.
"It's only half of the cut we proposed during the June budget," he said. "We're in a nearly $4 billion budget crisis; a $350 million budget cut isn't going to do much," he said. The state needs to make more budget cuts. The spending budget for the state has increased from $6.2 billion in 2005 to $11.3 billion in 2009, he said.
Gould wasn't sure if the Senate would have the votes to pass the bills on Monday either.
"This should have been resolved months ago," said Rep. Nancy McLain, referring to the budget. State Treasurer Dean Martin told the government that there is no more money in the bank and that the state had to borrow this month in order to make ends meet, McLain said. Despite that, state departments keep spending.
"The governor could stop the departments from spending," McLain said. "It's ludicrous to keep spending when we don't have any money coming in."
"These are fees for service," she said, referring to the Senate bill. "If it's costing us more to provide the service then we're charging, then I believe it's reasonable to increase the fees."
She was not concerned about departments raising fees exorbitantly; the Department of Economic Security tried it with fees for day care centers and the public outcry caused them to find an alternative.
McLain said she could understand why some voters are getting frustrated with the Legislature and the budget process. She was frustrated as well.
"I don't think the Legislature, as a whole, has conducted itself very well," she said.
It's time for some legislators to get past their personal beliefs and get the budget passed, she said.