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SLASHING THE STATE, PART 157

GOP lawmakers pushed Senate President Russell Pearce's dream budget through the Legislature in just one day last week.

It made a mockery of the notion that members of the public should get a chance to weigh in on legislation as it moves through the committee process—but these clowns make a mockery of just about every aspect of lawmaking, so it's nothing new.

The budget pretty much does everything that conservatives have dreamt of doing in Arizona: K-12 education is cut by $242 million. Universities are cut by $235 million. Community colleges are cut by $63 million. More than a quarter-million people lose their state-subsidized health insurance. And on and on and on.

Sandy Bahr, legislative lobbyist of the Sierra Club, notes that the budget permanently reduces a fund dedicated to cleaning up contaminated water sites from $15 million to $7 million a year, and eliminates any general-fund contribution to the Arizona Water Protection Fund. Hey, who needs clean water?

Lawmakers are also swiping more than $2 million in user fees from state parks and nearly $1.5 million for the State Lake Improvement Fund, as well as smaller amounts from other non-taxpayer funds that support the parks. A separate bill requires the Arizona State Parks board to start privatizing parks.

In total, the GOP budget shaves more than $1.3 billion in state spending—which is about a half-billion more than Gov. Jan Brewer proposed.

Last week, we had hoped that cooler heads in the House of Representatives would scale back the cuts and work out a budget more in line with Brewer's plan, but we're hearing that House Republicans may slash even deeper.

Politically, we suppose that makes sense, given that House Speaker Kirk Adams wants to run for Congress. It doesn't help you win a GOP primary if you're the moderate guy.

If the House does slam the budget through, the big question becomes whether Brewer will sign it—or send it back and challenge lawmakers to overcome her veto.


QUALMS FOR THE SICK

We mentioned last week that the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association had come up with a plan to tax themselves, therefore allowing Arizona to continue to provide insurance coverage to many of the people now on AHCCCS.

We're hearing that the proposal has little chance of making it out of the Legislature, because Republicans are sticking with their pledge to never raise taxes. Plus, they don't like the whole idea of giving health-care coverage to the poor.

It scarcely matters that the Arizona Chamber of Commerce says the Republican plan is lousy policy that will lead to higher health-care premiums for everyone on private insurance, or that the hospitals warn it will lead to huge job losses and financial troubles.

This is the Arizona GOP's version of repeal and replace: Repeal insurance coverage, and replace it with nothing.


BORDER BUST

The other big news out of the Legislature last week—besides Sen. Scott Bundgaard's decision to step down as majority leader following his decision to avoid arrest by claiming legislative immunity after he got busted during a fight with his now-ex-girlfriend on the side of a Maricopa County freeway—was the collapse of Sen. Russell Pearce's package of immigration bills.

A handful of Senate Republicans teamed up with Democrats to defeat five immigration bills, which included a measure that would have created a new version of an Arizona birth certificate, with second-class documents handed out to children who couldn't prove that at least one parent was a citizen or legal resident of the U.S.; a bill forcing hospitals and schools to check the immigration status of patients and students; and Pearce's mega-immigration bill, which would have seized cars from illegal immigrants, evicted entire families from public housing if even one household member had entered the country illegally, and done all sorts of other nasty stuff.

Sen. Frank Antenori of Tucson voted in favor of most of the bills, but peeled away to vote against the bills that would have challenged birthright citizenship.

Sen. Al Melvin, who represents the Catalina foothills, Oro Valley and the retirement community of SaddleBrooke, voted in favor of all the bills.

The bills were knocked down after the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and other members of the business community put pressure on GOP lawmakers to turn down the volume on the immigration debate.

During the discussion on the bills, Sen. Lori Klein, a freshman Republican from Anthem, shared this thought on the floor of the state Senate: "(M)ost of the Hispanic students do not want to be educated but rather be gang members and gangsters. They hate America and are determined to reclaim this area for Mexico."

Klein was reading aloud from a letter that purportedly came from a substitute teacher in Maricopa County's West Valley. The letter, which was originally sent to Pearce, ended up in Klein's hands after he forwarded it to the rest of the caucus.

Among the other points in the letter that Klein read: The "vast majority" of Hispanic students refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, tear their books to pieces and insist that they don't have to speak English, because they are going to take over the country and force everyone to start speaking Spanish.

Melvin—making Pima County Republicans proud once again—commended Klein earlier this week for reading this racist bullshit on the floor of the Senate.

Thanks, Sen. Melvin, for providing us with yet another gut-bucket low in the 99-year history of the state.


WHIPPED

Rep. Matt Heinz, who represents the southside Legislative District 29, stepped down from his post as minority whip earlier this week.

In his brief resignation letter, Heinz said that he was stepping down "to devote more of my time to the legislative process."

Heinz added that he would "continue to focus my efforts on developing the best, most effective policy solutions to address the ongoing economic recovery, essential public health programs, education funding at all levels, and public safety priorities including border crime enforcement with a long-term goal of balancing the budget in a sustainable, fiscally responsible manner."

Rep. Steve Farley of midtown's Legislative District 28, who serves as assistant minority leader in the House, says that he had heard grumblings from other Democrats that too many of Heinz's bills were still alive, while their legislation had been killed off in committee.

"There were a lot of caucus (members) who were not happy about the way things were going," says Farley. "Ultimately, it's probably a better decision for him as a legislator, because he has priorities that the whip job would be in the way of."

Working with Republicans, Heinz managed to pass a bill that banned the marijuana substitute "Spice" earlier this year. Getting a bill passed is a rare feat for any Democrat, given that they're outnumbered 2-to-1 in both chambers.

Heinz has several other bills that have passed the House, including a measure that restores funding for hospice stays for terminally ill patients.

"I regret that it's necessary for me to resign the position," Heinz told The Skinny. "I worked very hard for the caucus and will continue to work very hard for the caucus."


Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel

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