The Legislature appeared poised to work through the Memorial Day weekend as the budget stalemate continued at the Capitol on Friday.
Lawmakers spent much of Friday, traditionally a day off for the legislature, waiting for news as Republican leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey’s office sought to persuade several GOP holdouts in the Senate to support the $11.8 billion budget plan.
After working until 2 a.m. the night before to pass three budget bills, the House of Representatives planned to come back Friday night to vote for the remaining bills, though House Republican spokesman Matt Specht cautioned that “today’s schedule is very fluid.”
Given that lack of an agreement with the Senate holdouts, it appears likely that lawmakers will work through the three-day holiday weekend, as Senate President Karen Fann pledged on Thursday.
The House Appropriations Committee scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. Saturday to hear a bill to increase lawmakers’ per-diem reimbursement. Legislators from Maricopa County currently receive $35 per day, and those from other counties receive $60, with the rates dropping to $10 and $20 after 120 days of session, which the legislature hit 11 days ago.
Under House Bill 2760, per-diem payments to legislators would match federal rates, which would total $189 for lawmakers from outside Maricopa County and $95 for those who live in the county.
Legislators are paid a $24,000 salary, which hasn’t been raised – something that can only be done by voters – since 1999. Bipartisan supporters of the bill say the per-diem increase is needed to allow out-of-county lawmakers to afford lodging during the legislative session, when they typically live in Phoenix.
Lawmakers spent much of Friday morning and afternoon going in and out of session, caucus meetings and committees, dealing only with non-budget bills.
The holdup on the budget has come down primarily to three Republican senators: Paul Boyer, Heather Carter and J.D. Mesnard.
Boyer, R-Glendale, is holding out until he gets a vote on his proposal to extend the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue in civil court. Carter, a Cave Creek Republican, has stood with Boyer in refusing to vote for the budget until the bill gets a vote.
Mesnard, R- Chandler, has refused to vote on the budget until he gets changes he wants to a plan that would conform Arizona’s income tax code to match provisions of the federal tax overhaul of 2017. He’s concerned that the current plan that Ducey and legislative leadership agreed to would raise taxes on wealthier earners, who would lose a host of itemized deductions that were eliminated in federal law.
He wants to offset that by collapsing Arizona’s five income tax brackets to three, with the highest bracket lowered to offset the loss of the deductions.
Fann, a Prescott Republican, told reporters Friday morning that lawmakers were still trying to work out agreements on the issues.
“One day at a time, one step forward. That’s how we’re doing it,” she said.
Those discussions included Boyer’s request for a one-time window that would allow childhood sexual abuse victims who are time-barred from bringing lawsuits under his proposal for a year after the legislation passes.
“We’re still negotiating on all of that. We’re trying to find good legislation. This is what we do down here,” Fann said.
As of late Friday morning, Boyer said there had been no movement on his demands, and he was still committed to voting against the budget. Mesnard told the Mirror the same thing regarding his issue Friday evening.
Meanwhile, Carter spent much of the morning in Fann’s office while her colleagues dealt with other legislative business on the Senate floor. Boyer said he hadn’t been able to get in touch with Carter, but predicted that she would continue to back him up on the statute of limitations bill.
“I don’t think she folds,” he said.
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