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The Legislature adjourned for the weekend as negotiations over the state's $9.58 billion budget package fell apart in the House late Friday night before a deal could be reached


PHOENIX — The Legislature adjourned for the weekend as negotiations over the state's $9.58 billion budget package fell apart in the House late Friday night before a deal could be reached.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle left the House in frustration as House Speaker David Gowan and Senate President Andy Biggs called it quits after discussions with a group of House Republicans on additional cash for K-12 schools hit a major roadblock.

The holdout House Republicans balked early in the week at what they believe are funding shortfalls for smaller schools, district-sponsored charter schools and those with declining enrollment. They struck a tentative agreement Thursday that brings new spending on those items to about $51 million, up from about $16 million.

Some conservative members are upset about the added spending. Democrats want more spending on schools and social services but majority Republicans don't need their votes to pass a budget.

Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, said Gowan was working on a deal with House members who believed they had an agreement for more spending on K-12 schools, but could not reach a final deal.

"People are pretty upset — it's a mess," Pierce said. "It's a total lack of leadership."

Democratic Rep. Bruce Wheeler of Tucson also blamed the failed effort on the leadership.

"Nothing got done for the fifth straight day and we are going home and try again on Monday," Wheeler said. "It's not just the House leadership but the governor who bears considerable responsibility for this breakdown."

Gov. had negotiated the overall budget with Biggs and Gowan, who brought it to their members early in the week.

"The governor is committed to passing a balanced budget that protects K-12 education and we look forward to working with legislative leadership in the week ahead," Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said after the Legislature adjourned. "We look forward to working with all legislators."

Several Republicans expressed their irritation at the inability to come to an agreement with the holdouts in their own caucus.

"I have absolutely nothing to say other than I am disgusted," said Republican Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley, a fiscal conservative.

The package passed by the House Appropriations Committee during a meeting that ended at about 3 a.m. Friday was supposed to include fixes for the education issues.

But wrangling continued throughout the day Friday and into the early evening. The House, set to gavel-in at 10 a.m., briefly met in mid-afternoon but then recessed to allow for more negotiations.

House appropriations chairman Justin Olson announced at the start of the meeting late Thursday that the school budget items would get extra money and funding for school construction also would be added. That followed a commitment earlier in the day from Ducey Chief of Staff to fix the problem and bring school funding up to the previous year's level.

The meeting of the House panel — the only point where the public could comment on the spending plan — began at 9 p.m., and was sparsely attended. Some Democratic members complained that holding it at such a late hour meant many affected by the spending plan were effectively shut out of the process.

In recent years, once a deal is struck between the governor and House and Senate leaders they push to get it done in a week and will work overnight into the weekend to get the budget out.

"Usually they say you can't let it go over the weekend or it will get worse," Pierce said. "But it can't get any worse."

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