- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Republican and Democratic leaders of the Arizona Legislature hinted at battles to come in the legislative session during a round-table discussion at Wednesday’s annual Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry legislative forecast luncheon.

Republican Senate President Andy Biggs warned that he would try to hold the line on spending despite the first budget surplus since the Great Recession. His comments came after House Minority Leader Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, vowed to push for boosts to education spending above what is included in a 10-year, $3.5 billion package that voters are being asked to approve in May.

“When you mantra is repeatedly not enough money, that money solves all problems, then you get kind of wrapped around the axle,” Biggs said. “This feels like 2008 - you have people saying, “Ah, man, we’ve got all this money, let’s go spend it.’ Does anyone remember what happened after we did that? It’s called a $3 billion deficit.”

Meyer and Senate minority leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, vowed to fight to restore cuts to career and technical education programs made last year. Meyer said those programs provide students who don’t expect to go to college with a path to good jobs

But Biggs said some schools are gaming the system by classifying some core classes like history as technical education and reaping money they don’t deserve.

“We need to make sure there is strong technical education available to kids. I’m all for that,” Biggs said. “But I also think we need to take a good look and put a spotlight on this and make sure that we’re getting what we need to.”

The state is expected to have a $555 million budget surplus as of July 1, although only $240 million is expected to be ongoing revenue, according to the Legislature’s budget analysts. Those figures don’t include a $460 million rainy day fund.

The cash on hand will boost pressure to restore cuts to universities, county and city roadbuilding funds, and many other parts of government that saw cuts during the past several years.

The Democrats proposed using some of that cash to help give teachers raises, buy new textbooks, provide money for new buildings and cut class sizes.

“Money is certainly important, and our schools have done heroic jobs in maintaining standards and quality during all these years of legislative neglect and cuts in funding,” Hobbs said. “But that’s not sustainable.”

“The bottom line is if we want to put teachers in the classroom in our state we’re going to have to pay them,” Meyer said. “It’s a competitive marketplace. We have teachers leaving our state and going to other states to take jobs.”

Wednesday’s event comes just days before the Legislature opens the 2016 session on Monday with Gov. Doug Ducey’s delivery of his second State of the state speech. The Republican governor touted his accomplishments last year, including cutting regulations and taxes. He promised more to come but didn’t tip provide any details of his legislative agenda.

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