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Lawmakers continues to work on budget details

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Posted at 11:59 AM, Apr 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-29 14:59:57-04
An agreement to add millions in new school spending to break a stalemate that stalled a state budget deal for several days was still in flux Friday morning as the Arizona House prepared to debate the $9.58 billion budget package.
 
The package passed by the House Appropriations Committee during a meeting that ended at about 3 a.m. Friday was supposed to include fixes for issues that caused some House Republicans to balk at what they believe are funding shortfalls for some school budget items.
 
Rep. Chris Ackerley, R-Tucson, said that while an agreement was reached, members were still wrangling over the exact language to be contained in the bills.
 
"There's an agreement on the concept. Absolutely," Ackerley said. "It just detailed in the language. Because the devil's always in the details."
 
Appropriations chairman Justin Olson announced at the start of the meeting late Thursday that the areas would get extra money and funding for school construction also would be added. That followed a commitment earlier in the day from Ducey Chief of Staff Kirk Adams to fix the problem and bring school funding up to the previous year's level.
 
The meeting of the House panel -- at which the public could comment on the spending plan -- began at 9 p.m., and was sparsely attended. Some Democratic members complained that holding it at such a late hour meant many affected by the spending plan were effectively shut out of the process.
 
"We're working toward a final product with the goal in mind of not a single-dollar reduction in K-12 spending in this year's budget," Adams said in an interview.
 
That direct comment on the negotiations marked a clear commitment to fixing what Republican education backers are balking about in the budget. The House members' concerns revolve around three issues -- extra cash for smaller schools, a delay in cutting funds to district-sponsored charter schools and keeping funding stable for schools with declining enrollment. Also in the mix is an obscure formula on how unused space is counted for funding purposes.
 
Those issues were triggered by policy decisions enacted by lawmakers in recent years.
 
Fixing those issues will cost about $50 million in additional spending, and getting to that point without irking fiscal conservatives who want to avoid too much new spending was the sticking spot. The deal added enough to get to that mark.
 
Olson said negotiators identified several areas outside education where money could be moved to boost the K-12 schools budget.
 
It remained unclear if that was sufficient for the group of majority Republicans who balked at the original budget deal. House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, said his members are still working out issues.
 
"I don't think there's a problem," he said. "I think it's all process right now."
 
As it sits, the House and Senate were poised to begin debating the bills later Friday. But as with all budgets, anything could happen.