Plans to refurbish many of Arizona State University's aging buildings are in jeopardy as the state's tax revenue shrivels.
Economists project the state will face a $1 billion deficit this fiscal year, which began in July.
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Republican budget leaders in the Legislature have placed a procedural roadblock in front of the start of $1 billion in construction at the state's three public universities.
ASU's share of that is $220 million, the vast majority of which is slated to refurbish existing facilities and install safety equipment across the university's main campus in Tempe.
Many of those buildings date back to the 1960s and 1970s, lack fire-suppression systems, and have deficient plumbing, heating and air conditioning.
Lawmakers and Gov. Janet Napolitano approved the bundle of projects in June as part of the state budget. The universities are to pay 20 percent of the construction costs, with revenue from the state Lottery expected to cover the rest.
The building projects are intended to revive Arizona's struggling construction industry, in addition to providing new facilities and refurbishing old ones at the public universities.
"These construction jobs are in a sector of the economy where we need jobs badly," Napolitano said.
The university had hoped to begin work shortly said Richard Stanley, ASU's planning director.
But first, state law requires that the Joint Committee on Capital Review evaluate the projects. The committee also typically votes to recommend or disapprove the projects.
The committee - an extension of the Legislature's appropriations committees - reviewed the university construction at a meeting last week. But it did not take a vote on the projects, leaving them in limbo.
"We just didn't feel like it was timely to say, 'OK, go for it, and start construction,' " said Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Napolitano argued Wednesday that Burns and Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, are exceeding their powers by halting the construction.
The governor also disputed Burns' and Pearce's contention that their opposition is about tax revenue.
They "would have voted against this, I believe, and tried to delay it if we were in a raging surplus," Napolitano said.
ASU, along with the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, are looking for a way to begin work despite the lawmakers' opposition.
"We don't want to antagonize anyone or hide anything," said Jaime Molera, a lobbyist for the Arizona Board of Regents. "But at the same time, we're doing our part and we want to move this forward."
In just the past three months, state tax revenue is nearly $300 million short of expenses, Burns said.
"When you have a cash flow deficit like we have, I think one of the first things you put on hold is construction projects."