I believe I previously shared with you my analogy of the legislature as a middle school. That analogy is particularly apt as we approach approving a budget, as we began to do this morning.
Just like 7th and 8th grades, for the last few days rumors of all kinds have run rampant, cliques have formed and broken, fights have broken out then healed almost as quickly, and adrenaline is reaching a peak. Huge lines in the sand are easily crossed and then forgotten, reputations are made and then broken, and hope and fear fight over the same space in our consciousness.
The Medicaid restoration has heightened the stakes dramatically this year, so this next couple of weeks is really gonna be something to witness.
Yes, the logjam of the past couple of months is finally broken, and the end is in sight. This may be due to the Governor's threat to veto all bills until progress is made, or perhaps due to today being the day legislators' per diem reimbursement is slashed, but either way the result is welcome after weeks of stagnation.
Here's how it is going down so far, subject to change at any moment:
Ten separate budget bills--covering different aspects of the budget--were introduced by special dispensation of the Senate Rules Committee today. This is a surprise in and of itself, since the previous assumption was that budget would start in the House, given President Biggs's declaration weeks ago that he would not let Medicaid get a vote on the Senate floor.
None of these bills (SB1483-1492) include the Medicaid restoration. However, the general understanding is that one of them will be amended (by a Republican) during Committee of the Whole on Thursday to include the Governor's restoration plan (with no language against Planned Parenthood), and there are more than enough bipartisan votes to pass it.
Thus amended (and with other amendments to improve the current language of other bills), the package will be third read and sent out of the Senate late Thursday/early Friday and sent to the House, where--barring unforeseen glitches--it will likely be further amended and returned to the Senate for final approval, then passed to the Governor for signature.
The House seems to have enough votes to pass Medicaid as well, but Speaker Tobin is still trying to push an alternative of sending it to the voters (costing another $8 million in taxpayer money to do so). There does not appear to be support for that alternative. The Governor's plan has a strong chance of making it through, particularly given the momentum that would come from the package passing through the Senate with more bipartisan votes than necessary.
That's the plan on Medicaid. The rest of the budget is a bit more checkered. While most of us assumed that any budget coming out of the Senate would be way too conservative for Democrats to consider, the bills before us today, while they contain flaws, are in many ways surprisingly reasonable, and almost matches the Governor's budget proposal from earlier this year. Despite their problems, these bills don't emulate the slash-and-burn budgets of recent years.
They fund the inflation factor for K-12 education ($82 million this year) for the first time in years (admittedly after the legislature lost a court case to that effect) and there is funding for the UofA medical school and updating the ancient computers in the Department of Education. On the other side, Performance Funding remains. This has the possibility of rewarding rich schools while punishing poor ones, but it is pushed off into next year at which point the formula will be finalized and hopefully fixed, if that is possible. Also, the statutory formulas for classroom supplies and computers are eliminated, as is the School Facilities Board formulas. Adult Ed is not funded, either.
CPS funding is increased, but not to the extent needed. For instance, Emergency and Residential Placements for kids who need to be removed from dangerous homes is scored at less than half of what the Governor says we need, and this could set up more terrible situations wherein kids are housed in offices for days on end -- we have to protect those kids who count on us for their safety.
There will be amendments offered by both Republicans and Democrats to fix many of these shortcomings, but it remains to be seen how many will be adopted. It could well be that I and others will be voting in favor of the Medicaid bill, but against many of the other bills that do more harm than good.
Another little kicker today was the late reintroduction of a series of Senate elections bills that were held in the House. These bills would collectively have the effect of reducing participation in Arizona elections and should be resisted at all costs. Thankfully for democracy, I have reason to believe that this package will not make it to the Senate floor. I will, as always, watch carefully just in case I am surprised. This is, after all, the season of surprises in the Legislature.
I will send you a brief update late Thursday or early Friday to let you know how this all shakes out here at Washington Street Junior High.
Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley