AZ House approves budget to force Senate action, despite holdouts




Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives voted on a state budget deep into the night Friday, approving an $11.8 billion spending plan and sending it to the Senate, where several Republican continue to hold out in search of various policy changes.

The House ended its work after 4:30 Saturday morning.

The budget bills, which were written after GOP leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey negotiated the details, passed along party lines. Democrats tried repeatedly to amend the bills or to block their passage, but were unable to garner the single Republican vote required to do so in a chamber where Republicans hold a razor-thin 31-29 margin.

The spending package now goes to the Senate, where it will face stiff opposition and there have been no signals over the past two days that deals to win over the holdout Republicans will be made.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, have both refused to vote until a vote is made on separate legislation that would expand the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers and organizations that did nothing to stop the abuse.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is withholding his vote because he objects to budget provisions that conform Arizona’s income tax laws to the federal tax code. The plan calls for the state to reduce the number of tax brackets from five to four, but Mesnard says the proposal will still increase taxes on wealthy individuals. His counter proposal would give the state only three income tax brackets.

The House passed the tax budget portion of the bill without amending or changing any of the issues Mesnard had with it.

As the House was hearing budget bills Friday evening, the Senate adjourned, and Senate President Karen Fann stated she hoped the chamber would vote on the budget bills Saturday morning.

Republicans hold a 17-13 advantage in the Senate, and can only afford to lose a single vote on the budget.

“They definitely don’t have 15 of us,” Boyer told the Arizona Mirror Friday night.

Thursday evening, Reps. Ben Toma and Kelly Townsend were heard discussing possible retaliation against Boyer and Carter while accidentally speaking into a hot microphone during a caucus meeting. The two discussed blocking bills proposed by Boyer and Carter in their respective committees next session.

On several of the budget bills Friday night, Democratic members attempted to add dozens of amendments to the bills, which were shot down along party lines.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, told her Democratic colleagues that their amendments were being rejected because the budget was already balanced, and adding new spending would mean other provisions would have to be removed.

“How funny, when Democrats offer budget amendments, we get the front door,” Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, said.

Cobb shot back later while voting on bills that several measures brought to her by Democrats were included in the budget, specifically in the spending on K-12.

However, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, won approval for an amendment that contained a litany of additions aimed at mollifying House Republicans who had threatened to vote against the budget.

One of the additions would allow complaints about teachers that are involved in political speech in the classroom to be forwarded to the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House and governor after being reviewed by the state attorney general. The provision was aimed at resolving a dispute with Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who has worked all year long on legislation to punish teachers who make political speech in their classrooms.

Lawmakers also passed a bill that would impose a handful of new restrictions on the citizen initiative process and the people who collect signatures to refer measures to the ballot.

“This practice is deplorable” Rep. Charlene Fernandez said on passing budget bills late in the night, specifically the K-12 budget. “This is a very important bill and we are debating it at this hour.”

recess tv
The Arizona House of Representatives was empty during one of the lengthy recesses before a budget was finally approved in the early morning hours of May 25, 2019. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Around midnight, lawmakers recessed as Bowers announced that Rep. John Kavanagh’s son had been rushed to the emergency room. The Fountain Hills Republican returned to the chamber later to say his son was doing ok.

Although it has finished its work on the budget, the House is still set to work through the holiday weekend: It has scheduled a committee hearing and possible vote on a bill to triple the amount of expense pay lawmakers receive each day during the session.

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.

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

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