The Latest: House OKs school funding deal, sends to Senate

The Arizona House has passed a package of bills that will pump $3.5 billion into K-12 education and settle a five-year-old lawsuit filed by schools that didn't receive required inflation boosts during the Great Recession.
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PHOENIX (AP) -- The latest on the plan to settle Arizona's school funding lawsuit (all times local):

9:45 p.m.
 
The Arizona House has passed a package of bills that will pump $3.5 billion into K-12 education and settle a five-year-old lawsuit filed by schools that didn't receive required inflation boosts during the Great Recession.
 
Thursday night's action sends the package of bills to the House. It came without any Democratic votes on two of the bills, but with unanimous support for the third bill in the Republican-controlled House. That legislation actually appropriates the money.
 
Democrats objected to several aspects of the package, but especially to a hard cap on increasing school funding beyond half the state budget that takes effect at the end of the 10-year funding plan. They also opposed Gov. Doug Ducey's plan to boost withdrawals from the state land trust to pay for more than half the plan. 
 
The Senate plans to meet Friday morning. If the GOP-controlled Senate approves the bills as expected, they go to Republican Ducey for his promised signature.
 
Voters would then have to approve the whole agreement in a May 17 special election.  
 
Backers say the 50 percent cap is needed to keep spending down. House minority leader Eric Meyer said the cap could prevent the state from cutting class sizes or making other improvements in school funding.  
 
6 p.m.
 
The Arizona House has taken to the floor to debate a $3.5 billion plan designed to settle a long-running lawsuit filed by schools and voted to approve the first of three bills enacting the plan. 
 
The 35-22 vote came with only Republican support. Two more bills remain. 
 
Thursday evening's House action came after the Senate adjourned for the night with plans to return in the morning. The Senate went home after hours of delay prompted by amendments that were being negotiated between Republicans leaders, Gov. Doug Ducey's office and attorneys for schools. 
 
Schools sued in 2010 after the Legislature failed to provide required annual inflation adjustments during the great recession. They mainly prevailed, but the Legislature was still appealing. 
 
The House could debate late into the night, leaving it for the Senate to do the same on Friday. 
 
5 p.m. 
 
The Arizona Senate has adjourned for the night, dashing hopes for a two-day special session on a school funding settlement. 
 
The Senate's action Thursday evening came after hours of delay apparently caused by a last-minute plan to amend at least one of the three bills needed to formalize the lawsuit settlement.
 
House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro says his chamber still plans to debate and vote on the package Thursday night. He said Republicans are united and he sees no problems passing the proposals.
 
Gov. Doug Ducey called the GOP-controlled Legislature into special session Wednesday night to begin an expected three-day meeting on the 10-year, $3.5 billion plan that uses general fund cash and state trust land money to boost school funding. The plan also requires voter approval in a May 17 special election. 
 
An earlier agreement to waive rules to allow a two-day special became unnecessary after Senate President Andy Biggs kept a promise to adjourn his chamber at 5 p.m. He says that decision allows the House time to do their work without pressure.
 
The Senate plans to return at 9 a.m. 
 
 


2:15 p.m.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey spent nearly an hour walking the floors of the Arizona House and Senate urging support for a school funding plan and thanking lawmakers and staffers.

The Republican governor's unexpected visit Thursday afternoon came as lawmakers prepare to debate a $3.5 billion plan that uses general fund cash and state trust land money to boost school funding over 10 years.

The governor hugged staffers, urged on GOP lawmakers and asked reluctant Democrats to support his plan. He got some positive and negative comments from opposition party members in return.

Democrats are most concerned about `triggers' that would let the Legislature cut school funding in lean times. They also worry that 60 percent of the extra school money comes from early withdrawals from the land trust, which is already earmarked for schools.

Democrats instead want him to tap a $650 million state budget surplus.

Ducey countered that would be unwise after years of budget deficits and just a few months of unexpected higher revenues. 

12:30 p.m.

The Arizona House appropriations committee has approved a package of three bills that will settle a long-running school funding lawsuit.

The party-line vote came after hours of testimony in support and against the proposal. Republicans approved the proposals and Democrats opposed.

The vote opens the door for a full House debate.

The Senate appropriations panel approved the bills earlier in the day and the Senate also is set for debate Thursday afternoon.

Votes could follow if both chambers vote by a supermajority to suspend normal rules requiring three days of deliberations on bills.

Gov. Doug Ducey called lawmakers into a special session Wednesday night to ratify a settlement of a suit filed by schools. They sued the Legislature after they stopped providing voter-required annual inflation boosts in 2009.

They mainly prevailed but the case was under appeal. Schools would get an additional $3.5 billion over 10 years.

10:35 a.m.

The Arizona Senate's appropriations committee has approved all three bills that are designed to settle a school funding lawsuit.

But the hearing had a dramatic moment when Senate President Andy Biggs angrily denounced testimony from a former state treasurer during an appropriations committee on a bill to settle a school funding lawsuit.

Former Treasurer Dean Martin had just finished testifying when a winded Biggs ran into the room. Martin had warned lawmakers on the panel that they were trading one lawsuit for two and were being pressured to just approve the measures.

Biggs called those comments about pressure "ridiculous" and "scurrilous" and said the panel should discount Martin's entire testimony.

Lawmakers in the Senate and House have been told the bills are not open to amendment.

The House appropriations panel is still considering the bills. The full House and Senate is expected to debate the settlement in the afternoon.

9 a.m.

The Arizona Legislature's appropriations committees have begun hearings on a deal adding new school funding and ending a five-year-old lawsuit filed by schools.

House and Senate committees began hearing testimony on the legislation that will formalize the agreement Thursday.

Gov. Doug Ducey called lawmakers into a special session Wednesday night. Debate by the Senate and House is set for the afternoon after if the committees approve the bills as expected.

Schools sued the Legislature after they stopped providing voter-required annual inflation boosts in 2009. They mainly prevailed but the case was under appeal. Schools would get an additional $3.5 billion over 10 years.

About 60 percent would come from increased withdrawals from the state's permanent land trust fund, and the rest from the general fund.

If the Legislature approves the settlement, voters will have a chance to weigh in during a May 17 special election. If they reject the proposal, the deal is off and the lawsuit would be revived.

 


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