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Friday April 13, 2001

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Senate's budget 'will sink' says governor

By Eric Swedlund

Arizona Daily Wildcat

PHOENIX - Despite the prospect of a veto from Gov. Jane Hull, the Senate yesterday approved its $14.8 billion budget for the next two years.

Hull has promised to veto any budget she doesn't consider to be fiscally sound, but legislative leaders have indicated they have enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto - 20 votes in the Senate and 40 in the House of Representatives.

Hull has said the budget proposal could spark a financial crisis in the state and throughout the week, has urged lawmakers to wait at least three weeks to get April tax figures before adopting a budget.

"This budget is like the Titanic. Those who built it think it's indestructible, but it's too big, has too few lifeboats and will sink under its own weight before it reaches safe harbor," Hull said.

The House approved its version of the budget Wednesday, which is almost identical to the Senate's recommendation. Both houses have shrunk the biennial budget by about $600 million to nearly match Hull's shrinking revenue projections since January proposals.

UA lobbyist Greg Fahey said the legislative budget retains most of the requests University of Arizona officials made in January.

University employees would be included in the 5 percent pay raise slotted for state employees under the plan.

In addition to that, the UA will get some help in combating the "brain drain" in the form of $3 million to retain critical personnel.

Lawmakers have recognized the heavy workload of many UA graduate teaching assistants and the proposal provides relief in the form of $1.5 million over the next two years that would go to hire about 104 new TAs.

Additional UA budget requests left in the legislative proposal is almost $1 million for the Arizona Health Sciences Center Phoenix campus, about $800,000 for the UA South campus in Sierra Vista, almost $1 million for the university's share of construction and operation of a joint northwest campus with Pima Community College, and $2.5 million for equipment and construction for a conversion to digital television.

Fahey said another positive of the budget proposal is building renewal funding at 65 percent, up from 23 percent for the last two years.

While a lot of the building projects would include things such as roof and elevator repairs, Fahey said remodeling classrooms will also be a priority.

"This is valuable to students," Fahey said. "It will enhance the teaching ability of the university and significantly improve the student experience."

Fahey said he is pleased overall with the Legislature's budget, but added "the drama will be what happens in the ninth floor" when it gets to Hull's office.

If a slowing economy and revenue shortages necessitate additional budget cuts, Fahey said the UA could be one of the first to see a financial trim.

"No doubt our heads will be on the chopping block," he said.

Possible cuts could still come in the form of utilities and custodial service to new buildings, which is of particular interest to the UA as the new student union and Integrated Learning Center are finished.

"It's anybody's guess what the economy will do," Fahey said. "There are things to be concerned about."