A peek at Arizona budget: Universities funded fully; district-run charters aren’t

2014-04-04T00:00:00Z A peek at Arizona budget: Universities funded fully; district-run charters aren’tBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

House Speaker Andy Tobin said Thursday that he and Gov. Jan Brewer have reached a deal on a new state budget.

But Senate President Andy Biggs said he won’t try to sell it to his members — much less vote for it — until he sees all the details in writing.

Tobin said the plan restores the full $5.5 million in funding for the state’s three universities sought by the House. It also includes a requirement the state’s Medicaid program pay for insulin pumps for patients with diabetes.

But the amount of additional funds for district-run charter schools is now set at $25 million for the coming year. That’s far more than total elimination originally proposed by Biggs, but less than the $33 million the schools would get normally — and the amount the House wants.

Also gone from the House proposals are efforts to have the Medicaid program cover care by chiropractors and podiatrists.

Biggs said he is not necessarily saying “no” to the plan. But he said he has little more than numbers on a piece of paper and it is up to Tobin to be more specific.

The most recent Senate proposal is still $20 million below what Tobin said he and the governor want.

The deal contains less money than Brewer wants for the new Division of Child Safety and Family Services, but the governor and House members have agreeed to revisit the issue next month.

The Legislature is not scheduled to convene again until Monday.

Manufacturer
tax breaks

The state House voted Thursday to give manufacturers and smelters a break from the sales taxes paid on electricity by everyone else. The exemption now also includes natural gas.

SB 1413 was originally sought by Gov. Jan Brewer, whose aides said Arizona is one of only a few states requiring manufacturers to pay sales taxes on the power they purchase, putting Arizona at a competitive disadvantage.

The state’s estimated revenue loss is about $10 million.

That tax break, which already has been approved by the Senate, got the attention of natural-gas producers. So they got Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, to exempt their sales from the state tax, too, adding about $700,000 to the price tag.

Cities still have the option of whether to continue their own levy.

Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, objected to the concept because, unlike cities, there is no similar opt-out for counties. She said small counties, which already have a small property tax base, cannot afford the loss of revenues.

“I understand economic growth,” Barton said, as well as incentives to lure firms here.

“But ... if we’re going to be able to provide services to our constituency, we still have to maintain some level of revenue.”

Wolf killing

Without comment, the House gave preliminary approval Thursday to allowing ranchers and their employees to kill wolves.

State laws already permit hunters to shoot bears and mountain lions that are attacking livestock. SB 1211 expands that to Mexican gray wolves, despite the fact the species is listed as endangered under federal law and killing an endangered species violates federal law.

The measure, which already has been approved by the Senate, is being pushed by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, who has been a foe of the efforts by the federal government to reintroduce wolf populations in Arizona and New Mexico. She said prey for the animals include cattle, white tail deer, “pets and our children.”

Officials of the state Game and Fish Department said federal law already allows killing a wolf if it is attacking a human. It remains to be seen whether the measure, which still needs a final roll-call vote in the House, is in violation of federal law.

Tuition scholarships

More types of companies will be able to get state tax credits for donations to organizations that help children attend private and parochial schools under the terms of legislation given preliminary House approval Thursday.

Existing law gives individuals and corporations a dollar-for-dollar credit on what they owe the state for money they give to scholarship organizations. SB 1048 extends that to also include shareholders of so-called S corporations — small firms whose earnings are taxed not at the corporate level but are attributed to each company owner.

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said the legislation will further reduce state revenues and “deplete public education.” But Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, said the state will save money if the funds mean some students move from public schools to private ones.

The measure now needs a final roll-call vote. The Senate already has approved a similar version.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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