Arizona lawmakers assemble new state budget

The Associated Press

PHOENIX With competing proposals from the governor and their own staff before them, lawmakers are beginning the long process of putting together next year's state budget.

Gov. Fife Symington unveiled his proposed $4.5 billion budget Wednesday. It includes $231 in new spending, a $200 million decrease in personal income tax and pay raises for state employees.

The proposal by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee the Legislature's budget staff also includes a $200 million tax cut. It also includes $147 million in increased spending and totals $4.357 billion.

The JLBC budget doesn't specify which taxes to cut, leaving that decision to the Legislature. It doesn't include state employee pay raises.

''It should come as no surprise that the centerpiece of (the) budget is my proposed $200 million personal income tax reduction for the citizens of Arizona,'' Symington said Wednesday. ''This will be the fourth consecutive tax cut Arizonans have enjoyed under my administration.''

Big ticket items elementary and secondary education, corrections, health and welfare eat up most of both budgets.

Symington proposes spending more than $1.7 billion on public schools, an increase of nearly $80 million over the current year, and about $4 million more than the JLBC allocation.

But Symington's education budget is likely to touch off another battle in the Legislature over whether to provide additional funds to offset inflation.

Neither Symington nor the JLBC provide anything for inflation, which is expected to run at a rate of about 2.1 percent, said Peter Burns, Symington's budget chief. Funding the 2.1 percent would cost about $56 million, for which Democrats say they will fight.

''It's really a shame when this state is running a surplus we don't take the opportunity to fully fund education,'' said Senate Minority Leader Peter Goudinoff, D-Tucson.

Sen. Ruth Solomon, D-Tucson, said she is hoping for a bipartisan effort to include at least some of the $56 million Symington and the JLBC left out.

Goudinoff also had problems with other areas of the Symington budget, which he called short sighted.

He criticized Symington for allocating too little to programs that protect children and to the juvenile justice system, saying the failure eventually would come back to haunt the state.

''It's like a slow-motion train wreck,'' Goudinoff said.

The Symington budget would include $35 million for pay raises, including $24 million for merit raises for state employees, $7.6 million for a pay package for corrections officers, $290,000 for youth corrections officers, $350,000 for Department of Public Safety sergeants and $3 million for other salary adjustments.

Symington said the raises for general state employees, which would take effect Jan. 1, would be based entirely on merit and would range up to 8 percent.

Ray Valenzuela, executive director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said he questions the sincerity of a merit pay system.

''The process of determining merit is pretty much a sham,'' he said. ''It's a very subjective process, one that doesn't assure that performers are going to get their fair share.''

Other major items in the two budget proposals include:

Universities: $595.2 million in the Symington budget and $595.2 in the JLBC recommendation.

Health and welfare: $1.132 million in the Symington budget and $1.1 million in the JLBC budget.

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