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Arizona Republicans want to remove consequences for failing to strike a budget deal
Photo by Gage Skidmore (modified) | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
Arizona Republicans want to change the state’s constitution to end the possibility of a government shutdown, a move that critics say would take away any consequences from GOP lawmakers for failing to work with a Democratic governor.
The proposal would allow the previous year’s budget to automatically go into effect for the next 12 months on July 1 — the first day of the fiscal year — if a new budget hasn’t been signed into law by that date. Typically, budgets are completed long before that deadline, though in protracted budget fights, the threat of a government shutdown has often led to compromise.
Senators on March 1 approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 1034, which would ask voters in 2024 to change the constitution to allow lawmakers to side-step the governor if budget negotiations break down. It would allow minimal changes to the prior year’s budget to remove one-time spending and to account for formula-driven funding in agencies like the Department of Education and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System; those would have to be approved by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
Because Republicans have the majority in both state legislative chambers, the change would mean they could leave Democrats entirely out of the budgeting process. One-time expenditures were the key to creating last session’s bipartisan budget.
Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, already vetoed the “skinny budget” sent by Republican lawmakers earlier this year that merely extended much of the current year’s spending plan — and negotiated by GOP former Gov. Doug Ducey — for another 12 months. While the plan kept ongoing spending measures in place, it cut about $2.3 billion of one-time spending.
Republicans and Hobbs have have yet to seriously engage in budget talks. Before the governor announced her spending priorities for the year, Republican lawmakers said they would only negotiate with her on state spending after their continuation budget was signed into law. Though they have presented it as a way to ensure state government won’t shut down in July if the two sides fail to agree on a broader budget plan, the practical effect of doing so would all but guarantee a stalemate because there would be no incentive for GOP legislators to agree to spending any of the state’s nearly $2 billion in surplus cash.
Legislative Democrats all opposed the “skinny budget” and Hobbs’ office explicitly said that the bills would be vetoed.
Hobbs’ office panned the proposed constitutional amendment, though it will not have any direct say over whether it is implemented. Legislation to send items to voters bypass the governor and head straight to the ballot if they win approval in both legislative chambers.
“The legislature’s one duty is to pass a budget for the people of Arizona,” Hobbs spokeswoman Josslyn Berry said. “It’s time we stop kicking the can down the road and work on a budget that moves Arizona forward.”
If voters approve the change, then Republicans could effectively do what they attempted to do at the start of the session with the “skinny budget” should budget negotiations fail with Hobbs in the future.
“Yet another ballot initiative that will waste (the) time and money of the voters,” Sen. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said when explaining her opposition on the Senate floor. “This bill should be called the ‘lazy legislature bill.’”
Republicans pushed back at Epstein’s characterization, using similar arguments to those they made when attempting to pass the “skinny budget,” saying that it is needed to help ensure economic stability and help those who rely on certain government services.
“This is not the ‘lazy legislature bill,’ this is the ‘don’t shut me out’ bill,” Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said.
The measure’s sponsor, Chandler Republican J.D. Mesnard, said he believes that voters will like the proposal, as the Arizona legislature has continued to work longer and longer sessions.
“I suspect that they are going to see the wisdom, again, that the lights don’t turn off when these high-stakes games of brinksmanship continue to go on down here,” Mesnard said. “If you’re going to call anybody lazy, probably aim your guns at the Ninth Floor.”
The bill passed along party lines and will head the House of Representatives for consideration.
The measure also comes as Hobbs has been meeting with both Democratic and Republican leaders to discuss a variety of topics, including the budget.
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