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Lawmakers pass substitute budget

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Despite concerns from the Governor's Office, lawmakers ahead of the August 31 deadline passed the budget bill for the next fiscal year, calling for over $665 million in appropriations.

It's considered a financially conservative measure and today lawmakers passed the substituted budget bill for the next fiscal year. However, it's not necessarily drawing the support from Adelup. "This was a very, very difficult bill to get through," noted Vice Speaker BJ Cruz. But less than a week in session, lawmakers today passed Substitute Bill 33-37, otherwise known as the General Appropriations Act of 2016.

Cruz, who chairs the Committee on Appropriations, added, "All of us would have love to have spent $705 million for the operation to the government, but all of us together realized we have a statutory responsibility to address the deficit, that the five-year projection shows is going to carry at least for the next four or five years."

The bill sets aside a $13.5 million reserve to address a deficit revealed in a Fiscal Year 2014 independent audit. Cruz says this budget measure ensures that tax refunds are set aside, revenues remain at conservative levels, 70 new public safety personnel can be hired and several government agencies receive an increase in appropriations levels compared to this current fiscal year. The Governor's Office, however, is raising concern saying this bill underfunds critical agencies and programs.

"And we sent a letter to him because we have very serious concerns that this is an unbalanced and unworkable budget," expressed Chris Duenas, special assistant to the governor. He shared that Adelup was never called into the Committee of the Whole to provide input on the substitute budget bill, which he says provides severe cuts in key areas, saying, "We gave them the spreadsheet that shows our very serious concerns, so we just want to make sure this budget is thoroughly talked about before it's voted on. But if they vote on it and pass as it is, they'll be significant impacts on our government services."

The governor proposed amendments to the bill he says to fix any inadvertent job losses and cuts to improvement projects. For example, he says the bill cuts funding for 19 vacancies, some of which have been filled at the Department of Corrections. The amendment would provide spending authority if his projections track for the first half of the fiscal year. No amendments were made to the bill today.

Cruz however noted the governor already has the authority to ask lawmakers to revisit the budget halfway through the fiscal year if there are issues that need to be addressed. "But what we've done with this budget is give the governor lump sum authority in each of the departments and he can meet the needs of his departments for the first six months and actually we've anticipated for the entire year," he said.

Duenas however says Adelup's message is clear, that they have been fiscally responsible. He adds while he agrees with being fiscally conservative including the 2% reserve, they disagree with the "severe cuts in key areas" as presented in this bill, adding, "What we don't agree on is they won't accept our numbers to make sure the executive branch and key functions can move forward and we can make improvements and improve services for our people."

The budget bill passed with a vote of 13-yes, 1 no vote by Senator Tony Ada and one excused absence.

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