- Associated Press - Monday, May 2, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Members of the Arizona House and Senate returned to the Capitol on Monday and appear to have finalized a budget agreement after a frustrating week of false starts.

House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, appropriations Chairman Justin Olson and members of a group that had been pushing for more school funding said late in the day that they were drafting final bill language and preparing to vote on the budget package starting Tuesday morning.

“I’m feeling good about it,” said Rep. Karin Fann, R-Prescott, one of a group of Republican lawmakers who insisted on boosts to school funding line-items before they would support the $9.58 billion budget package. “This is the first time I’m feeling good that we’re moving in the right direction and we might be there.”

Olson and Montenegro both said the package was ready to go.

“I think that we’ve done a good job in addressing members’ concerns who are voicing the priorities of their constituents,” Olson said.

“We want to do it in the light of day, so we’ll be here tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.,” Montenegro said.

The announcements come after a week of failed negotiations on a deal. The House members seeking more K-12 school were trying to prevent cuts to smaller schools, district-sponsored charter schools and those with declining enrollment. They also wanted more money for school construction items.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle left the House in frustration Friday after negotiations that lasted all week ended without a deal.

Some conservative members are upset about the additions to the budget, which would bring spending on the items to about $51 million from $16 million in the initial deal negotiated between Biggs, Gowan and Gov. Doug Ducey.

Minority Democrats want more spending on schools and social services, but majority Republicans don’t need their votes to pass a budget.

“Among other things, it doesn’t come anywhere close to the restoring the types of cuts that have been made over the last eight years,” said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson. “We’ve cut 23 percent in funding from state support for K-12 education since 2008. That’s by far the largest amount of any state.”

Some GOP members are concerned about added spending and instead want to pay down debt. The budget actually does pay down a substantial amount of that, paying $230 million to end a budget gimmick that delayed payments to universities and the state’s child safety and public welfare agencies.

But there’s still nearly $1 billion in deferred payments to K-12 schools on the books.

“I think our biggest priority should be to pay down the obligations that we have made in the past before we go spending money that we see coming in the future,” said Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. “It’s high time we made good on those obligations before we go taking on more.”

Other parts of the budget are also getting attention, including funding for court-system priorities that are tied to an effort to expansion the number of state Supreme Court justices from 5 to 7. The Senate advances the expansion proposal on a voice vote Monday.

The plan also adds $96 million in new highway construction money, $30 million to counties and the rest for major highway projects, including widening Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson and new roadway near the Nogales Port of Entry.

Ducey’s new Border Security Strike Force also gets $22.6 million in general fund money plus $4 million from other funds. That’s about $5 million less than the governor wanted for the new program. The force is budgeted to get $8 million a year in each upcoming year for operations.

Other issues include $35 million in extra funding for the Department of Child Safety in the current year and a $24 million boost next year.

“They didn’t budget their money right, and they’ve ran out of money, kind of like a teenager runs out of money they didn’t spend right and they want more,” said Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa. “And I’m not so quick to go ahead and vote yes on giving them another chunk of money we don’t have any control of where it’s going to go.”

“I cannot vote yes on something like that - not again,” Townsend added.

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