Rolling logs in the Arizona Legislature

Today, that practice is at the center of a high-stakes legal fight headed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

By Mary Jo Pitzl | View Comments

Like many things, it started innocently.

In 1991, as Arizona lawmakers were putting together the coming year’s state budget, they created two bills to accompany the main appropriations bill that funded the government. These “omnibus reconciliation bills” added about $1 million to two government programs.

That marked the apparent birth of a practice that has ballooned over the ensuing three decades into an annual exercise that added new laws into what is supposed to be a spending plan.

Today, that practice is at the center of a high-stakes legal fight headed to the Arizona Supreme Court. It could fundamentally change the way the state budget and state policy are created.

The mission creep of what are now called budget-reconciliation bills grew out of the political expediency of tying support for the mandatory budget bill to pet projects lawmakers wanted to get into law before closing down their annual session.

“It was an evolutionary process,” George Cunningham said wryly. Cunningham dealt with state budgets for decades in roles ranging from Senate staff member to lawmaker to director of Gov. Janet Napolitano’s budget office.

This year, the evolution turned into revolution.

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