May 3, 2005
Republican state lawmakers are trying to increase the pressure on Gov. Janet Napolitano in their budget showdown as the state House of Representatives formally approved a bill that includes private school vouchers for the first time this year.
House Republican leaders passed a critical test on Monday by getting 31 GOP votes for HB2782. That bill answers Napolitano’s request to expand funding for full-day kindergarten from $16.7 million to $38.5 million next year.
But the bill also includes a voucher program for 1,500 students each year, and would establish tax credits for businesses that donate to private school tuition scholarship organizations.
Previously, House leaders had been unable to convince enough Republicans to support any voucher plan on a roll call vote, and they didn’t get any help from minority Democrats.
HB2782 now must pass a similar test in the Senate, which passed an earlier version of the voucher proposal only through the support of a single Democrat, Albert Hale of Window Rock. Now, he is under enormous pressure from his party not to undermine Napolitano.
This time, Senate Republican leaders say they have the necessary 16 party votes to pass HB2782.
Republican lawmakers said HB2782 represents a sound compromise between Napolitano and Republicans who favor more educational choices by directing some tax dollars to private schools.
"If the governor vetoes this bill, none of us gets want we want," said Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa. "But if the governor signs this bill, we get something we want, and we all get something we don’t want as well."
Napolitano already has vetoed a separate bill on the business tax credits and has said she also opposes any type of voucher program. The governor told legislative leaders in a private meeting before Monday’s House vote she won’t accept HB2782 as written.
Additional funding for full-day kindergarten, without any strings attached, tops a list of several items that Napolitano says must be included in a legislative budget proposal to avoid another veto.
"The governor was clearly frustrated, because it appears to her that the Legislature isn’t ready to really negotiate," said Jeanine L’Ecuyer, the governor’s press secretary.
Still, key GOP leaders said Monday’s action sets the stage for revisions to their $8.2 billion budget proposal and then quickly end the legislative session, perhaps later this week.