- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Legislative leaders were preparing a series of budget changes late Friday afternoon in an effort to persuade enough majority Republicans to support a proposed budget for passage.

Senate President Andy Biggs said the budget bill amendments were being drafted late Friday afternoon. The House and Senate plan to return late Friday evening to begin debate on the $9.1 billion budget.

“I’m optimistic,” Biggs said. “I believe we can get these bills through.”

Despite Biggs’ rosy outlook, serious problems remain for the budget deal crafted between Biggs, House Speaker David Gowan and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

Ducey said there’s no reason to hold up a vote even though many lawmakers in his own party object to parts of the budget plan. He said he sees no needs to delay, as some members want, and is staying close to the Capitol this weekend.

“Slow this down? What are we waiting for?” Ducey said. “I ran on this budget. I talked about this budget in inauguration and State of the State. I stood with the Speaker and the President on January 16th. We’re seven weeks into this. Let’s pass a budget. It’s time to balance the budget.”

The major sticking points are larger cuts to the state’s universities, the elimination of all state community college funding in Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties, requiring counties to pick up the cost of juveniles corrections and large cuts to medical providers, among other issues.

At least three and possibly as many as five of 17 Senate Republicans had problems with the budget. One is Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, who said Friday he’s still not supporting the deal.

In the House, a sizeable number of the 36 Republicans had problems with the budget, even some fiscal conservatives like Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Snowflake, who would normally be supportive.

“This fiscally conservative budget is killing my counties - it’s killing my counties,” Barton said.

She said she believes restoring one of the few revenue increases in Ducey’s initial proposal, a doubling of the vehicle license fee - is needed.

“It hasn’t been changed since 1978, it’s only $8,” Barton said. “It’s $8 folks. I mean, get real. I think we could go to $10, we could go to $16.”

But Biggs said that’s out of the question. He would not say what changes to the negotiated plan he and Gowan will propose.

Ducey recommended a doubling of the fee to help fund the highway patrol, a boost that would raise $35 million in the coming budget year. That increase was deleted in the revisions announced this week by Biggs and House Speaker Davis Gowan.

Among the issues causing heartburn for many GOP in the negotiated -$9.1 billion budget proposal:

- A more than $100 million cut to universities, an increase from the $75 million cut Ducey initially proposed.

- A required cut of $123 million in non-classroom K-12 spending. The budget calls for an increase of $102 million in overall spending, but much of that is required to make up for inflation and increase student counts. Democrats call the plan a net cut in spending.

- Elimination of all state support to community colleges in Pima, Pinal and Maricopa. That $18 million cut is double what Ducey proposed.

- Forcing counties to pay 25 percent of the cost of sending a juvenile to the state’s lockup. That will cost counties $17 million.

- An increase of planned cuts to hospital and other Medicaid providers from 3 percent to 5 percent.

- $20 million in cuts to the Department of Child Safety designed to handle growing caseloads and a backlog of cases.

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