The Arizona Senate stalled on passing the state budget Saturday as a split among Republicans left leaders scrambling, and so far failing, to find the needed votes to pass the $11.8 billion spending plan that has already been approved by the House of Representatives.
“We’re sorry we didn’t get more done today,” Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said to members of the public who had come to see lawmakers vote on the budget. “We could not get negotiations to a point where we’d have enough votes to pass a budget.”
In the early morning hours of Saturday, the House passed the budget after a long and arduous fight in which Democrats tried repeatedly to amend the bills or block their passage. They were unable to garner the single Republic vote required to do so in a chamber where Republicans hold a razor-thin 31-29 margin.
The Senate began its work Saturday around 10 a.m., holding a prayer and doing the pledge of allegiance before going into an extended recess so lawmakers could continue negotiations.
Despite the long recess periods, lawmakers did make some small progress on the state budget.
A bill focused on the budget for the state’s criminal justice departments was amended by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, to include a two-year phasing out of a controversial vehicle licensing fee that was originally keeping the senator from voting on the budget.
“This is to phase out that very pesky and unpopular car tax,” Ugenti-Rita said while explaining the amendment.
Lawmakers also amended and gave preliminary approval to some of the less controversial budget bills. However, budget bills focused on education, health and the overall state budget remain stalled due to the ongoing negotiations with recalcitrant Republicans.
Three senators are still believed to be no votes until their demands are met.
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.
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.
After a day filled largely with waiting for something to happen, the Senate called it quits Saturday evening with plans to return Monday, despite the Memorial Day holiday.
“Thank you for being patient with us,” Fann said to observers in the gallery before adjourning Saturday.