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Sat, Oct. 19

Brewer: No more bills without budget

PHOENIX - Republican Gov. Jan Brewer told lawmakers on Friday not to send her any more bills until there was significant progress on the budget and a proposed Medicaid expansion that has divided the GOP and triggered a legislative stalemate with no immediate end in sight.

Matt Benson, a spokesman for Brewer, said the Legislature has had more than enough time to resolve budget issues.

"We need them to focus on the budget and Medicaid and deal with these issues before sending any additional bills," Benson said.

Brewer has not made any specific veto threats, but wants to see a suitable budget as quickly as possible, Benson said.

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, vowed that the Legislature would enter the new fiscal year beginning July 1 with a budget, but he gave few clues as to when a compromise might be brokered.

"An issue like this - Medicaid expansion - this is clearly the largest government growth issue in decades," he told The Associated Press. "No one should expect to see that this issue should already be resolved so quickly."

The latest sign of friction between Brewer and GOP leaders seems to ensure the already snail-like pace of the legislative session will become even less productive until the budget battle is resolved.

Lawmakers recently moved from a four-day to a three-day workweek. On Thursday, the GOP-led House voted on one bill before adjourning for the day. The Legislature will mark the 120th day of the session on Monday.

Tobin praised Brewer for not putting the brakes on the legislative process sooner. She has acted on nearly 200 bills during the ongoing budget negotiations that have played out publicly as supporters and opponents of the Medicaid expansion have held demonstrations on the Arizona Capitol lawn and traded jabs in the media.

"It's part of the process," Tobin said of the deadlock. "It's not unexpected at all."

Brewer's plan to use federal dollars to expand Medicaid to 300,000 additional poor Arizonans is at the center of the budget logjam. Senate President Andy Biggs has also voiced opposition to the plan that is a signature part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law. Conservative Republican leaders are against similar expansions in other states.

Biggs did not return a request for comment Friday. He has said he will do everything he can to block a vote on the Medicaid expansion.

If the measure does make it to the Senate floor, it appears there are enough votes among minority Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass it. The House could also pass a Medicaid measure in a close vote.

Brewer regularly meets with Tobin, but that appointment was cancelled this week, and Tobin said he wasn't sure if it was still on for next week.

Lawmakers with bills still pending could become increasingly frustrated and demanding as negotiations continue, with their voices eventually influencing the outcome.

Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, who opposes the Medicaid expansion, had hoped his bill seeking to grant confidentiality to lottery winners would be voted on next week.

"It's disappointing," he said. "I think we owe the people expeditious work. Bills should be judged on their merit and either signed or vetoed."

The prolonged session has already prompted some lawmakers to stay home, causing additional delays as bills have been held or voted down because of insufficient support. Both opponents and proponents of the Medicaid expansion are clamoring for a vote soon to avoid further lost votes on their priorities.

"Once it breaks, there is going to be this crazy rush to get everything done before everyone goes home," said Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough, who is still pushing a handful of bills through the Legislature. "Really, really good stuff can get lost at the end of the day because you know people are hot to get out of there. That's what troubles me about this."

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