Divisive session in works - East Valley Tribune: News

Divisive session in works

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Posted: Sunday, January 8, 2006 5:09 am | Updated: 2:10 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The Legislature opens Monday and state lawmakers appear headed into one of the most contentious sessions in recent history.

With the political fallout from last session still hovering over the Capitol and elections looming in the fall, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Republican-controlled Legislature are at odds on a number of key issues facing the state that range from immigration to the budget.

From the start, the two sides will be pressed to ensure there is enough money for the state’s non-English speaking students to continue being taught the language.

Lawmakers face a Jan. 24 federal court deadline to come up with a funding plan or begin paying fines of $500,000 a day. While the governor and the Republicans both want to avoid the steep fines, the two sides differ on how to accomplish that goal.

The Republican plan calls for schools to identify all available state, federal and local dollars for non-English speaking students. After exhausting that money, the state would fund the difference.

Napolitano has so far rejected that idea, saying it does not guarantee that districts would get the cash they need every year.

On the budget, the differences between the two sides will come down to one key issue: The role of government.

Although an $850 million budget surplus signals financial good times for the state, it could cause a lot of political headaches as lawmakers argue over what to do with the money.

Republicans will look to push for $250 million in tax cuts as well as to sock some money away into the state’s rainy day fund.

And during a recent luncheon with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Republican leaders pledged to appropriate an additional $100 million for tighter border security.

Although the governor has been quiet about her legislative agenda — she will unveil her proposals Monday during the annual State of the State address — she has shown a willingness to increase funding for certain social programs that Republicans ideologically oppose.

Napolitano has increased funding for voluntary full-day kindergarten and pumped more money into the state’s child welfare agency.

The governor does not think the state government has grown too large.

"When compared to other states, we’re still relatively small," Napolitano said in a recent interview.

But with the election looming in the fall, hammering out compromises could become more difficult as politicians focus on the campaign trail.

Rep. Ray Barnes, RPhoenix, said the entire session will be tainted by the coming elections and it could come down to "who can make who look bad."

While it’s obvious that politics play a role in every session, Barnes said he expects more political fireworks this year.

"Something has to be done to bury the hatchet between the speaker and the the governor, or we could all be going home real quick," he said.

Democrats agree, saying Republicans will be looking to make the governor look bad and soften her up before the fall gubernatorial campaign.

"The governor is head and shoulders above any of the Republican candidates," said Rep. Pete Rios, DDudleyville, the minority whip. He expects Republicans will send up a host of bills in an effort to force the governor to veto them.

And with the Republicans’ commanding majority in both houses, Democrats will be hard pressed to stop any bill from getting to the governor’s desk.

But House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, said it would be pointless to send bad legislation to the governor just to score political points.

Weiers, along with the other members of the House Republican leadership, set a tough tone for the coming session by calling on Napolitano to sign a package of bills she vetoed at the end of the 2005 session.

They say the governor had given her word last year to sign the bills — including tax credits for businesses that give to private schools.

By sending the bills back for the governor’s signature, Republican leaders say it gives Napolitano a chance to redeem her word and set a positive tone for the rest of the session.

But it is unlikely the governor would sign the bills without some compromises.

Republican leaders are digging in, saying they are not willing to back down.

The stand-off sets up the possibility that the session could drag out beyond the 82 days that some members had hoped for.

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