- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - A weeklong impasse over the state budget in the Arizona House of Representatives deepened Wednesday when a group of Republicans pushing for more education and child welfare spending marched into the state Capital press room and declared they had broken off talks with GOP House leaders because of lack of progress.

The six Republicans had spent the past three days in talks after blocking a vote on the Senate-passed $9.2 billion spending plan on Monday and said their requests for more money had fallen on deaf ears. With 31 votes needed for passage and 36 Republicans in the House, they can block passage.

“I would be at the negotiating table any time they want to sit down and negotiate in good faith,” said Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler. “But when they’re not negotiating in good faith, then negotiations are over until they want to come back in good faith.”

The members were most concerned about two issues: Funding for a new child welfare agency and a provision retroactively stopping school districts from converting schools to charters. Several other issues also were on the table, including additional money for the University of Arizona and for K-12 education.

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said it wasn’t as easy as just giving the group what they wanted, because each change affected other items in the budget that other members want.

“Some of their stuff got in. Some of the stuff did not. Some of the stuff was lower,” Tobin said. “This is not just a bilateral negotiation here. This is one group that is trying to find room for their priorities and sometimes it is at the expense of other members.”

House Majority Whip Rick Gray pushed back at the contention that leaders weren’t negotiating in good faith.

“We spend hours, hours talking with them over several days, so it’s not accurate,” Gray said. “Again, we’ve spent days, hours in meetings, we’ve got members with all different views. So they might like what we’ve been talking about, but to say that we haven’t been doing it in good faith is unfair.”

The six Republicans who are pushing for more money for Child Protective Services and education include many of those who broke ranks last year and teamed with Democrats to back Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan. Besides Dial, they are Reps. Bob Robson, Kate Brophy McGee, Heather Carter, Ethan Orr and Doug Coleman.

The Medicaid supporters not openly backing budget revisions are Reps. T.J. Shope, Frank Pratt and Doris Goodale.

Robson told reporters they had hopes Tuesday night of a deal but were disappointed Wednesday.

“We were met with a counteroffer … to what we gave last night and at this point we’ve rejected that offer because it doesn’t meet those needs,” he said.

“We’re trying to focus on the priorities of Arizona,” Carter said. “And ultimately it boils around to what we believe (are) extremely important policy issues around education, around child safety, so we’re really trying to focus our budget conversations around those issues.”

“I think we made it very clear there were certain items, particularly in my case around the Child Protective Services budget, that needed to be in there and needed to be part of that budget and were not,” said Brophy McGee.

Brewer ordered Child Protective Services pulled from its parent agency in January and created a Cabinet-level post to oversee it after more than 6,500 uninvestigated abuse and neglect reports were revealed in November. A group of lawmakers and others are working with Brewer’s staff to write legislation to make that executive order permanent and expect to release it by May 1, although it could come earlier.

House Appropriations Committee chairman John Kavanagh said Tuesday that Child Protective Services hadn’t been left out of the Senate budget.

“It was understood they were getting a lot of money, and we weren’t sure they could spend all that money, hire all those people in that time,” Kavanagh said Tuesday. “And if after they expended that money they still had additional needs, there was still next year. They had plenty of money to do what they needed to do.”

The education issues are centered on school districts converting schools to charters. The Senate-passed version would have rolled back conversions done in the past year. Charter schools get more money per student, but backers of the rollback argue they also can tap voter-approved bond money and overrides and end up with more money.

But the extra money lets districts focus on innovative education and improve student performance.

“I spent 31 years in the classroom, a public district school. I don’t feel that we should continue to drain funds from public education … any time that the state is in a budget shortfall … we look at K-12 in particular to begin those cuts,” Coleman said. “I truly believe that education is an economic development that makes us a stronger state, is business-friendly, trains out future workforce and I’m ready to stand up for it.”

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