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Thu, Dec. 05

Arizona budget deal would take from higher ed, give to K-12

PHOENIX (AP) - Republican leaders in the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey have hammered out an agreement on a budget plan that cuts more money from universities but gives more to K-12 schools than the governor initially proposed.

The deal also eliminates the only major revenue increase in Ducey's proposal after it faced stiff opposition from conservative GOP legislative leaders.

The agreement is significant because it breaks from the past two years when the Senate moved a budget first and the House then made changes - after a battle.

The governor's initial plan slashed $75 million from state university funding, but pressure was mounting from some lawmakers for cuts larger than his 10 percent.

The deal puts the university cuts at just over $100 million - larger than the governor's proposal but less than feared by university backers, said Senate Majority Leader Steve Yarbrough, a Chandler Republican.

Amid skepticism from other lawmakers, Yarbrough and Senate President Andy Biggs said they hoped to win passage of the proposal this week.

"What we're trying to do is make sure that all issues have been narrowed, completed and resolved as much as possible, and then we would try to move it as quickly as we could," Biggs said. He added he expects the Legislature to work Friday and possibly Saturday to enact the budget.

Opposition to its speedy passage is likely to come from within Biggs' party, however.

"I just don't see it moving that quickly," said Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler. "Members have to have an opportunity to touch it and feel it, so to speak, to own it."

Community colleges in Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties would lose all state funding instead of the half that Ducey proposed, about $20 million instead of $10 million.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the negotiated budget includes a total of $102 million more for K-12 education, up from the $11 million net increase Ducey proposed before.

The governor originally recommended increasing K-12 classroom funding by $134 million while forcing schools to cut non-classroom spending by $123 million.

Both the new and initial budgets fail to fund schools at a court-ordered level - which would have boosted 2016 spending by $336 million. Lawyers for the Legislature and schools that sued after previous budget cuts are negotiating to resolve the case.

Changes also have been made to Ducey's proposal to add 3,000 private prison beds over the next three years. The emerging plan reduces that number to 1,000 beds to be phased in in 2017, with another 1,000 optional in 2018. In the meantime, counties would be allowed to bid to provide additional beds.

Also cut from Ducey's original plan is an increase in the state vehicle license fee that was expected to raise $30 million to fund the highway patrol. That faced stiff opposition from conservatives who are against any tax increases.

The governor's proposal included overall general fund spending for the 2016 budget year of $9.1 billion, a decrease from last year's nearly $9.3 billion plan.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scapinato confirmed the agreement.

Senate appropriations committee chairman Don Shooter said he expects the funding plan to move swiftly through the Legislature to the governor's desk.

"I'm sure there will be adjustments, but we think we have the votes to get this done," Shooter said.

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