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Time for budget fix runs short

By Kelly Lotz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Feb. 14, 2002

Legislature will postpone normal business if compromise is not reached today

PHOENIX - If the Legislature does not resolve a $250 million budget crisis today, all regular session work will be suspended, state lawmakers said.

State Senate President Randall Gnant, Republican, and House Speaker Jim Weiers, Republican, have said they will suspend legislative action on non-budget topics next week if lawmakers fail to agree on a budget fix this week.

Part of the discussion will cover pay raises for all state employees, including all University of Arizona workers, that Gov. Jane Dee Hull initially planned for April 1 but has since proposed cutting, said Francie Noyes, Hull's press secretary.

"A promise is a promise," said Democratic Sen. Ruth Solomon. "(Hull) should keep her word."

If the April 1 raises took effect, Hull's figures indicate it would cost the state $124 million.

Associated Students of the University of Arizona President Ray Quintero said he thinks the state should dip into the so-called "rainy day" fund as much as possible before cutting the raises.

"I think it's storming pretty bad," he said at last night's ASUA meeting.

The raises guaranteed each staff member 5 percent of the worker's salary or $1,500, which ever was greater, although there has been some dispute over how individual state agencies, such as the university, would distribute the state dollars.

But now that the state is facing a billion-dollar shortfall, Hull told lawmakers last week that if the raises are not cut, 2,600 state workers will be laid off.

"Those members (of the legislature) who insist that I am using threats of layoffs and work furloughs as a negotiating tool are flat wrong," Hull said. "They need to wake up and smell the coffee."

Gnant said a scheduled pay raise for state employees remains a stumbling block in finding a budget compromise.

The House plan would eliminate the raise during the final three months of the year, while the $160 million Senate version would not touch it.

Noyes said Hull originally agreed to give state employees a 5 percent raise July 1, 2002 "when money was flowing in the budget."

Neither side - Democrats who insist on keeping the raises and Republicans who have concluded the state can't afford the increase - are willing to compromise, Gnant said.

"We now have the ostrich party which has its head in the sand," he said.

Noyes said a revenue deficit in the budget has grown to more than $200 million in the past few weeks. The state also faces an $800 million deficit for fiscal 2003, which begins in July.

"Hull understands that state employees need their raises," Noyes said. "She was the first one to propose raises when money was available. But you can't spend money that isn't already there."

- Kaila Wyman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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