Lawmakers return to the capitol Jan. 14 for what is shaping up to be a tough legislative session.
At the top of lawmakers 'Things to do list’ is dealing with a $1 billion budget deficit.
“The overall, overriding, huge issue is the budget,” said Rep. Bob Robson (R-Chandler) who is the Speaker Pro Tempore of the House.
The budget is such a big issue that the joint legislative budget committee began meeting this week to start crafting a solution that Republicans, Democrats and the Governor could agree with.
The battle will be over what cuts to make in the current budget and how to design the 2009 budget that goes into effect July 1, 2008.
Rep. Phil Lopes (D-Tucson) the Democrat’s Minority Leader in the House agreed that the budget is a problem.
“Money is tight and we have to be smart the way we use tax dollars,” he told an Arizona Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday.
But he doesn’t see the sluggish economy holding down state revenues for long.
“Revenues will rebound,” as people continue to move into the state and reduce the glut of homes now on the market Lopes said.
But after four years of better than expected budget surpluses, Republicans are now leaning towards more aggressive budget cuts to deal with frigid economy.
“Its not going to be business as usual as it as been over the past few years,” said Rep. John McComish (R-Ahwatukee Foothills) the majority Whip in the House.
Along with dealing with the budget, lawmakers are also expected to tackle other issues in this election year, including reforms to the initiative and referendum process which currently prevents lawmakers from making any changes to a citizen initiative or referendum unless it furthers the intent of the ballot measure.
According to McComish, poorly written referendums have resulted in unintended consequences. He specifically pointed to Proposition 202 which raised Arizona’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.75 an hour. But in the process it didn’t exempt historic categories like counselors at Boy Scout camps who were paid a stipend for the summer, as well as being provided room and board. Now the Boy Scouts must pay the minimum wage for the summer’s work.
Another issue lawmakers will be looking at is if state highway funds should be cut or redirected because of the budget deficit. In rural Arizona highway widening projects, including Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson, as well as State Route 347 improvement projects are critical to economic growth.
For more information, and to track legislation, visit www.azleg.gov.