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UNCERTAIN PROGNOSIS

Gov. Jan Brewer was celebrating last week when she finally got her proposed Medicaid expansion (along with a few other spending priorities) through the Arizona Senate.

Six Republican senators—John McComish, Rich Crandall, Bob Worsley, Steve Pierce, Michele Reagan and Adam Driggs—teamed up the Democrats in the Senate to get a package of budget bills through the chamber in a marathon session last Thursday, May 16.

"I thank the Arizona State Senate for acting in bipartisan, courageous and collegial fashion today to approve the single most critical policy issue that has faced our State in years: the restoration of our Medicaid program in accordance with the wishes of Arizona voters," Brewer said in an official statement after the vote. "With Medicaid restoration, we can keep Arizona tax dollars in Arizona. We can use these resources to provide cost-effective health care to Arizona's working poor. We can protect our critical rural and safety-net hospitals. We can create thousands of jobs and improve Arizona's economic competitiveness."

State Sen. Steve Farley was feeling downright ebullient about the budget votes.

"It's an amazing day," the midtown Tucson Democrat told The Skinny after the bills had passed through the Committee of the Whole on Thursday afternoon. "I haven't felt this good about a budget since (former governor Janet) Napolitano left. ... This is the type of budget that the people of Arizona have been waiting for a really long time."

Republican Sen. Al Melvin, who Is among those who has fought Brewer on the Medicaid expansion, also brought up Napolitano—but not in the same glowing terms as Farley.

"It's just like when we inherited this train wreck of Napolitano in '09 and it took us four years to whack $3 billion out of it," Melvin said. "You shouldn't have to do that every couple of years. You should keep it steady, but they're caving."

Brewer has been arguing for months—with the support of the healthcare industry, most of the state's chambers of commerce, and a long list of business leaders—that accepting the federal money and asking hospitals to pony up the state's share would be a financial boon to the state.

By her estimates, the Medicaid expansion would bring $4.1 billion to the state in the next three fiscal years while providing 300,000 low-income Arizonans with insurance.

But Melvin expressed bafflement over Brewer's push to expand Medicaid when other GOP-controlled states are rejecting Medicaid expansion.

"I can't figure it out to save my life," the SaddleBrooke Republican said. "She's going against her own party."

He wasn't pleased with the five Republicans that he says rolled on their party, either. He promised there will be a "reckoning." "I hope they pay and I hope they pay with their seats," Melvin said.

He was especially perturbed with Senate Majority Leader McComish, who sponsored the Medicaid expansion amendment.

"What's really sad and pathetic is they're in our so-called leadership and there will be an accounting on that too—if not immediately, eventually," Melvin said.

It's likely at least a few of the five Republicans who voted alongside Brewer will face some kind of conservative challenge in 2014. Those primary races will present a visible battle line in the civil war between the conservative base and the business community.

It probably doesn't help Republicans in primary races when they get praise from Farley for voting in favor of the expansion and the other budget bills.

"We managed to come today across the partisan divide, which is not easy," Farley said last week. "We found the things we have in common."

Among the highlights in the budget plan, from Farley's perspective:

• A GOP plan to eliminate school funding for soft capital—books, computer accessories, and the like—was blocked and for the first time in years, the soft capital is actually funded.

• Child Protective Services will get a funding boost.

• About $4 million a year in interest from the state's rainy-day fund will go to support state parks and arts organizations.

On top of that, an elections omnibus bill filled with new restrictions on early voting, recall elections, initiative campaigns and the like that emerged from the Senate Appropriations Committee last week stalled before coming up for a vote in the Senate Rules Committee.

"I have it on pretty good authority that it isn't going anywhere," Farley says.

Nonetheless, several election bills sponsored by Sen. Michele Reagan that overhaul early-voting procedures are still alive in the House of Representatives.

But getting Medicaid through the Senate and getting it through the House of Representatives are two different things.

House Speaker Andy Tobin was scheduled to gavel the members back to work on Tuesday, May 21—or as we know it around here, deadline day. So we don't know how things are going to go this week, but from what we hear, Tobin is in no rush to hear the Medicaid legislation.

Tobin instead has told the press that he wants to put the Medicaid question on the ballot later this year.

Brewer said last week that she didn't want to see the issue referred to the voters because Medicaid is complex and she'd prefer to avoid a difficult campaign for it during the hot summer.

But as Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb pointed out in a column last week, Tobin's proposal does have one advantage over Brewer's approach: It puts to rest the legal question of whether the Medicaid expansion requires approval of two-thirds of lawmakers because it includes a tax increase.

Brewer maintains that the Medicaid expansion is a fee increase that does not require the approval of two-thirds of the Legislature, but there's little question that if passes by a simple majority, then opponents of the expansion—including the litigious Goldwater Institute—will likely file a lawsuit to see if the courts will throw it out.


SEE HOW THEY RUN

This year's Tucson City Council races are taking shape.

Republican Ben Buehler-Garcia, who lost to Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich last year, officially filed paperwork for a rematch last week.

"The council needs new blood that is willing to work with other members and who cares enough about Tucsonans to get serious about saving jobs, addressing poverty and rebuilding our crumbling roads," Buehler-Garcia said in a prepared statement. "Our community's issues need attention full time, not just during an election year."

Over in southside Ward 5, Republican newcomer Mike Polack last week filed his nominating paperwork to face Councilman Richard Fimbres, a Democrat who is wrapping up his first term.

After eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Polack had a career in the aerospace industry from 1986 to 2012. He also runs a gun-accessory store in Tucson.

While those two races appear set, Democrat Steve Kozachik is still without an opponent. Kozachik, who won the Ward 6 office as a Republican four years ago, switched to the Democratic Party earlier this year.

The strategy appears to have been a smart one; unless a candidate emerges before the upcoming filing deadline of Wednesday, May 29, Kozachik will be walking to reelection.

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