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By: Mark Brodie on 01/06/2012
The centennial legislature begins its session today, as Governor Jan Brewer gives her state of the state address. And, for the first time in a few years, lawmakers will not be dealing with a budget deficit. But, as KJZZ’s Mark Brodie reports, they will still have plenty to debate.
MARK BRODIE: Arizona is bringing in more money than expected so far this fiscal year. And, while Republicans and Democrats both attribute that, at least in part, to spending cuts made last year, the GOP uses words like “credit,” while Democrats say it’s just evidence the cuts were too deep. Senate President-elect Steve Pierce says he doubts lawmakers will have to have that debate again this year.
STEVE PIERCE: "Right now, I don’t see more cuts. I see status quo of where we’ve been last year, we had a lot of good things last year. It was the first year we had a balanced budget in a long time, and there were no gimmicks, there was no borrowing, and I see more of that in the coming session."
MARK BRODIE: So, if there won’t be arguments over what to cut, and by how much, it appears the debates this year might be over what to do with the extra cash. House Democratic Leader Chad Campbell says the answer is simple.
CHAD CAMPBELL: "Create jobs, pay down debt or somehow create long-term stability for the state. If it doesn’t meet one of those three things, then it shouldn’t be on the table."
MARK BRODIE: But one of those three categories will likely be of particular interest among Republicans this year….
ANDY TOBIN: "We need to start making the down payment on this debt crisis."
MARK BRODIE: House Speaker Andy Tobin says it took years to get into trouble, and will take time to get out of it. But, he says now would be a great time to lower the estimated $300 million annual interest payment.
ANDY TOBIN: "And, I think if we start paying down debt, and showing that this is a priority for us, whatever that number is, I think it’s an important step for Arizona to see that we got ourselves in trouble, we all worked together to get out, and now we’re gonna find a way to make sure this debt goes back."
MARK BRODIE: There also appears to be some momentum to sock money away in a rainy day fund. In addition, Governor Brewer wants to give money to the state tourism office, and not require counties to share their money with the state. Senate Republican leaders also want to lower the employee contribution rate in the state retirement system to what it had been in the past. But House Democratic Leader Chad Campbell says the state needs a plan.
CHAD CAMPBELL: "I think saying we’re gonna throw $7 million at tourism here, or we’re gonna alleviate the burden from the counties, those are great ideas, but let’s put them in larger context, so we make sure at the end of the day we have a plan and a vision for the state."
MARK BRODIE: Legislators almost universally agree that the economy and jobs will be this year’s most important issues. Campbell says lawmakers should consider tax incentives for small businesses. Other lawmakers propose tax credits for research and development, and regulatory reform among other ideas. Senate Democratic Leader David Schapira suggests what he says is a win-win.
DAVID SCHAPIRA: "What’s great about investing in infrastructure in this state is, number one, we can do something like fix our crumbling schools, I mean, we have schools in this state over 100 years old…while at the same time helping out an industry that’s certainly in desperate need. The construction industry in our state has been hurting for quite a few years now."
MARK BRODIE: But lawmakers say they have to be careful not to go all drunken sailor with the extra money. The temporary one cent sales tax increase will expire next year, and tax cuts approved last year will be going into effect. House Speaker Andy Tobin doesn’t expect his colleagues to go crazy.
ANDY TOBIN: "We’ve had to make tough decisions for the last couple of years, don’t want to go all in here and refund things when, if we end up in a double-dip recession, or if all of a sudden the economy does not pick up enough where we can sustain ourselves through 2014."
MARK BRODIE: In addition to the budget, economy and jobs, lawmakers this year will also likely take up bills dealing with personnel reform, guns on college campuses, accepting gifts, changes to the independent redistricting commission and illegal immigration, among many others.