/ Modified jan 4, 2013 6:25 p.m.

AZ Week: Legislature Begins Fiscal Finagling

Senate president says go slow in spending; Dem leader wants 'big holes' filled


Arizona state government has a balanced budget and nearly $1 billion cash on hand but faces uncertain economic recovery and other fiscal perils, state Senate President Andy Biggs says.

Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor counters that the state must do a lot of back-filling to get education, health care and services to protect children up to needed levels.

Biggs and Landrum Taylor gave their perspectives for Friday's Arizona Week broadcast on the budgeting process that will begin in 10 days in the state Legislature.

The state finished 2011-12 with a surplus of $380 million, plus $450 million that the Legislature stashed into a rainy-day fund. Revenues in the last six months have run slightly ahead of budget projections.

Biggs, a Republican from Gilbert whose party controls both legislative chambers, said he views the cash not as a surplus, but as a "carry forward" that will be needed to shore up future budgets.

"With the budget carry forward, that means you have some money that people will say, 'Gee, that's unallocated,'" Biggs said. "It is allocated. It's allocated for out years (2015 and 2016). But people will want to spend a lot of that money in '14."

Landrum Taylor, a Democrat from Phoenix, said she wants to see more spending for education and health care and in some other areas that were severely cut by the Legislature in the last several years of the economic downturn and state fiscal problems.

"What are we going to do to make sure to fill in some of those big, deep holes that have been dug in our various agencies in order for them to at least come up to basic levels of inflation rates," Landrum Taylor asked.

Biggs said he would anticipate more spending for education, but that it would have to be balanced with what is spent for health care for the poor.

The state has the chance under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid to people whose incomes are 133 percent of the federal poverty level, with the federal government picking up most of the cost.

That expansion is needed, along with more funding for education, Child Protective Services and other needed areas, Landrum Taylor said.

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