Ariz. Republicans prod Dems for budget offerings

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PHOENIX (AP) — Top Republican legislative leaders said they’re encouraging minority Democrats to offer ideas to help steer Arizona out of its budget mess.

House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President Bob Burn offered the encouragement — which amounted to a challenge in some ways — during separate remarks to an Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry luncheon Friday to preview the 2010 session starting Monday.

Adams, R-Mesa, said Democratic budget bills in the House would receive committee hearings “and recorded votes on the floor.”

“Being in the minority does not absolve anyone of that obligation,” Adams said. “So engage with us. Step off the sidelines.”

Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said he’s suggesting that his chambers’ Republican majority and Democratic minority each work through lists of budget-balancing options and prepare proposals.

“I then would like to see those proposals brought before our Appropriations Committee and we’ll see where our chips fall,” he said.

Neither Republican leader committed to supporting whatever proposals that Democrats put on the table.

The GOP leaders’ encouragement comes after 2009 saw hardly any bipartisanship in budget work, as Republicans mostly negotiated budget plans by themselves and quickly dismissed more than one Democratic budget plan. For their part, Democrats voted as a bloc against Republican plans.

House Minority Leader David Lujan, D-Phoenix, faulted the Republican-led Legislature for cutting school and research funding but he left the door open for bipartisan cooperation.

“Our economy is still in limbo and our state is on the wrong track,” he said. “We have to look for common sense together.”

Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia, D-Tucson, said he was “here and ready to work” with legislative colleagues and Brewer to solve the budget problem.

Burns told the chamber audience that the budget situation is like a car wreck in which a front-seat passenger not wearing a seat belt has gone through the windshield.

Legislators will be considering more spending cuts, additional borrowing and “potential revenue streams” to stop the bleeding, he said.

“It is going to be tough … for everyone involved,” Burns said.

Said Adams, “We are now faced with difficult and politically risky choices.”

The state faces a midyear shortfall of least $1.4 billion in the current $8.4 billion budget even after several rounds of spending cuts and other budget-balancing steps.

Already thousands of state employees have faced layoffs or unpaid furloughs as social services have been reduced, frozen or eliminated and rest areas, state parks, and motor vehicle offices closed.

Advocates said they have been told that Brewer’s budget proposal for the 2010-2011 fiscal year will propose a dramatic rollback in enrollment in Arizona’s version of the Medicaid health program for the poor.

Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the state cannot afford the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System’s current enrollment but that nothing was final until Brewer releases the budget proposal on Jan. 15.

Brewer has said previously that an existing voter-approved mandate expanding AHCCC enrollment should be resubmitted to voters.