AZ House approves budget - CBS 5 - KPHO

AZ House approves budget; rejects more spending on wildfire prevention

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

It took nearly a week of negotiating, but 33 Arizona House Republicans agreed on a budget deal. It totals nearly $9.3 billion for the coming year and lawmakers made some compromises to get the deal done.

Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said the key points included $3 million for Child Protective Services and the promise to revisit funding for Gov. Jan Brewer's new Division of Children, Youth and Families once more information became available.

Every House Democrat voted to block the budget from passing. Among other reasons, Rep. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said there wasn't enough funding for forest thinning, a measure that would cut the risk of wildfires.

"We're setting ourselves up for more loss," Otondo said.

Otondo proposed an amendment to the budget that would set aside $5 million for the State Land Department to thin forests on state lands, effectively reducing the risk of wildfires.

However, House Republicans crushed Otondo's proposed amendment, leaving the funding for the preventative measure at just $2 million.

The House-approved budget now goes to the state Senate where lawmakers will again debate the changes made.

Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, said the House-approved budget is still millions of dollars bigger than what he approved and there's little-to-no room for expanding any further.

"I'm not sure they need [$5 million] for the very little amount of [state] forest land," Crandell said.

It's no secret the state is strapped for cash but Becca Jackson believes lawmakers need to find a way to fund state wildlands. The Yarnell property owner saw the damage a wildfire caused last summer.

"Imagine losing every family heirloom, memory and photo you have, gone forever," Jackson said. "You can't replace that stuff."

Nineteen firefighters lost their lives trying to control a blaze on Yarnell Hill, which was spread by wind and overgrown brush.

The state forester suggested the state review and reevaluate its hazardous fuels reduction policies in September's Yarnell Hill Accident Investigation Report:

"The Team recommends that the State of Arizona review and possibly update its approach to mitigating wildfire threat to Arizona life and property. This could be modeled after communities such as Prescott, AZ; Santa Fe, NM; or communities in other states. This process could be a cooperative effort to reduce hazardous fuels and improve overall suppression efforts for communities that are at a high risk from wildfire."

House Republicans ultimately rejected a large increase in funding for fuels reduction and opted for a $1 million investment in private prisons.

The Senate could vote on another revised budget next week.

For more on this story and other stories around Arizona from this author, follow Shawn Kline on Facebook and Twitter.

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