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2:51 PM Tue, Nov. 20th

State Senate punts again on budget plan; vote may come Tuesday

PHOENIX - The Arizona Senate adjourned Friday without voting on a budget-balancing plan that contains Gov. Jan Brewer's proposal for a sales tax hike.

Senate President Bob Burns said the package, which the House approved the week before, is being modified in hopes of getting enough votes for its passage. The Senate will meet this afternoon (Monday), but Burns said a final vote may not come until Tuesday.

"That would be the best case," said Burns, a Republican from Peoria.

A Tuesday vote could jeopardize the plan to put the sales tax hike on the Nov. 3 ballot for voters to decide.

The deadline for the full Legislature to decide proposed ballot measures in the budget package is 8 a.m. Tuesday, said Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the state's top election official.

If the Legislature is very close to approving the package Tuesday, election officials from the state's 15 counties will have to weigh in whether to extend deadline, Bennett said.

If the measures don't appear on the Nov. 3 ballot, the Legislature could call a special election before the end of the year, but the holiday season could make it harder to pull it off. Churches that serve as polling places and people who volunteer as poll workers would likely be busy.

Key provisions of the budget package are measures that would ask votes to decide on the proposed sales tax increase, give new authority for temporarily relaxing rules that protect voter-approved spending, and approve a cap to hold down state spending.

If approved by voters, the sales tax would increase by a penny on Jan. 1 and, after two years, would drop by a half-cent for an additional year.

The plan also includes legislative approval of tax cuts totaling $200 million for individuals and $200 million for corporations. It also would repeal a state property tax that has been suspended for three years but is set to restart with fall tax bills.

Burns hopes separating the sales tax hike from the tax cuts will help get the package approved. Currently, the sales tax hike and tax cuts are bundled together in one bill being considered by lawmakers.

The separation of the two might appeal to any lawmaker who support the sales tax hike but opposes the tax cuts, or vice versa.

Burns said he will try to sell the modification to senators over the weekend.

Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the governor was fine with splitting up the sales tax increase and tax cuts. "She is not hung up on how it's packaged. She wants something accomplished," Senseman said.

If the Senate approves the package with the modifications, the changes would have to be voted on by the House.

Republican state Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, chairman of the House appropriations committee, said he believes the House would likely approve the modifications.

Kavanagh said lawmakers risk a veto from Brewer if the package doesn't contain her sales tax proposal. That's why she vetoed the last budget, Kavanagh said.

Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia, a Democrat from Tucson, said splitting up the sales tax hike and tax cuts won't likely have much impact on passing the budget-balancing plan, which needs 16 votes to clear the Senate.