A fiscal 2009-'10 budget should be passed out of the Arizona Senate "Tuesday, or Wednesday at the latest," District 26 Republican Sen. Al Melvin said Friday.
"It has taken longer than most of us had anticipated," the SaddleBrooke Republican acknowledged.
A new budget won't have new taxes, or reinstatement of a statewide equalization property tax for schools, he said.
"We are keeping the reductions to K-12 as low as we possibly can," Melvin said. Cuts made during the current fiscal year amounted to 1.3 percent, he said. "I don't expect it to be any higher than 2.5 percent in '10. We have kept reductions to those areas to a minimum."
To ease education cuts in light of an estimated $3 billion shortfall, the Legislature is "using federal stimulus funds to the hilt," Melvin said. "Frankly, we couldn't do without it. For those of us who do not want increased taxes, we're thankful for it."
Melvin, co-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said education cuts are smaller than those to other functions of government. "We have higher reductions in other areas," he said. "I'd like to see letters to the editor, why not reductions across the board, why cut education to a minimum, when state revenues have declined 30 percent? Why can't education share some of it?"
Gov. Jan Brewer is pushing for a three-year, 1 percent sales tax to offset what she is now describing as a $4 billion shortfall. Melvin said Brewer "is thinking about launching a PR campaign … trying to convince voters of her 1 percent sales tax increase.
"I really think it's a big mistake for her to do that," Melvin said. "It looks like she's bound and determined to do it. Frankly, the votes are not there."
Melvin wants to see how Brewer "is going to divvy up" federal stimulus money. "Although all 50 states get federal money, in 47 it goes to the Legislature. We're one of three where it goes to the governor. Hopefully, she'll go along with us."
When this budget is adopted by both chambers of the Legislature, "then, we have to be looking at 2011. We must be as innovative as we can, in 2011 and 2012."
Melvin said he hears the concerns of local governments, who fear further "sweeps" of various funds to help the state resolve its budget shortfall.
"I'm opposed to the sweeps of various funds, whether it's fish and game, or cities and towns," Melvin said. "I hope to see the day when they won't happen. Whatever part we include cities, towns and counties in helping us get through this, we're reluctant to do so. In fact, I'd like to participate in legislation that would prevent these so-called fund sweeps in the future."
After "seeing the gut-wrenching budget crisis we're in," Melvin wants to "make Arizona a more stable and rich state." His plan – "make ourselves the most nuclear power-friendly state in the union."
Melvin said the Palo Verde nuclear plant near Phoenix is "the largest taxpayer in the state. I want to expand it, duplicate it, triplicate it. There are very few things we can do that would be more environmentally friendly." He backs bills to study nuclear power in Arizona, and to study desalinization of sea water. "It needs affordable electricity, and nuclear power needs a coolant," Melvin said.
Melvin wants to make Arizona a "safe haven," a "safe place in all respects, for citizens as well as businesses. We can work it in our favor.
"The timing is perfect to attract really outstanding companies with great jobs to Arizona," Melvin said. "Raising taxes is not going to help in that effort."
He said the Legislature is looking at many revenue options, among them the privatization of certain roads as toll roads, and the consolidation of state employees in state-owned buildings rather than leased space.
Sale of prisons is "out," Melvin said. "It doesn't make any sense." Private prison operators are "not interested in acquiring existing prisons. Operating them, maybe."
Melvin plans 'town halls'
Sen. Al Melvin is planning "town hall" meetings throughout the Northwest during the first two Saturdays of June.
The District 26 Republican plans to be available on June 6 and June 13.
His schedule is:
Saturday, June 6:
9-11 a.m. — Desertview Theater, SaddleBrooke;
11:30-12:30 – Golder Ranch Fire Department offices, Catalina;
1:30-2:30 p.m. — Catalina Vista Center, Sun City;
3:30-5 p.m. – Nanini Branch Library, Casas Adobes.
Saturday, June 13:
12-2 pm. — Oro Valley Town Hall;
3-5 p.m. — Heritage Highlands Clubhouse, Dove Mountain;
6-8 p.m. — La Paloma Urgent Care, Catalina Foothills.