In what’s become a game of political pingpong, the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature late Tuesday sent Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano yet another bill to fund state programs that teach children struggling to learn English.
The Legislature approved the bill during a special session called by Napolitano, who vetoed an earlier version Tuesday.
Lawmakers worked late into the evening trying to craft a solution in time to beat a federal court-ordered deadline that was set to expire at midnight. The state faces daily fines of $500,000 if it misses the deadline.
The House voted 33-23 Tuesday night to approve a new version. The Senate followed with a 16-14 vote.
The latest Republican bill calls for a new way to fund English-learner programs. It would establish state-approved programs and then dole out money to school districts for those programs. Currently, English-learning money is given out on a per-pupil basis.
The measure would put about $30 million toward English programs, about $14 million of that in new money.
The Republican measure also would give tax credits to corporations that donate to English programs at private schools. It also sets a cap of $50 million on the corporate tax credits.
Some Democratic lawmakers immediately criticized the GOP bill, saying it doesn’t put enough money toward English programs and thus won’t satisfy the court. Democrats favor a bill that would pump about $135 million into English programs.
Jeanine L'Ecuyer, the governor’s spokeswoman, said The governor would carefully review the proposal before deciding whether to accept or reject it. She has five days to accept or reject the proposal.
The corporate tax credit provision has been a political sticking point between the Democratic governor and Republican legislative leaders. Republicans approved a similar measure last year only to see it vetoed by Napolitano at the end of the legislative session.
Republicans contend Napolitano double-crossed them — she disagrees — and they resubmitted the bill to her last week, along with several other measures left over from last session. She quickly vetoed them all.
Another GOP-backed bill went to the governor early Tuesday. That one would have included unlimited tax credits for corporations donating to English programs at private schools. She vetoed that one, too, saying it could potentially drain $850 million from the state treasury if every corporation took advantage of it.
"Very bad things happen in the middle of the night in the Legislature," Napolitano said Tuesday afternoon.
She compared the proposed tax credit to the much-publicized alternative-fuels tax credit a few years ago that cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
"This is an alt-fuels for schools," Napolitano said during a midafternoon news conference in which she was surrounded by about 30 Democratic lawmakers.
Republican floor leader Rep. Steve Tully, R-Phoenix, called the governor's claim “ludicrous,” saying Republicans passed “a thoughtful piece of legislation.”
He said there was no way the proposed legislation would cost that much
because there are not that many English-learning students in the state.
And, Tully said, even if that were that case, not every corporation in the state would take advantage of the tax credit.
The Legislature and Napolitano are struggling to comply with a federal court ruling last month that state funding for English programs is inadequate.
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins set a Tuesday deadline for the state to come up with what amounts to millions of dollars in additional funding or face daily fines of $500,000. Those fines could rise to $2 million a day if the Legislature fails to broker a deal that satisfies the court by the end of the session.
Napolitano has asked state Attorney General Terry Goddard to seek a court order requiring any fines imposed on the state go toward funding English programs, not into the federal treasury. He electronically filed the motion Tuesday.