The Arizona House of Representatives approved a budget for the state in a series of votes Friday and Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, after working all day Saturday, the Senate has still made no progress in getting enough Republicans to support a spending plan.
The uneven movement between the two chambers is unusual and has led to uncertainty over when and how lawmakers will agree to the $11.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Typically, both houses approve budget bills in tandem, once it is clear they have enough votes to secure passage.
But this week’s budget process did not follow the traditional route. The House has a smaller Republican majority than the Senate, but leaders there had the support of their members since the start of the budget debate Friday.
Senate negotiations stalled during the same period, with at least two and potentially three senators opposing the plan.
Frustration spilled into the public eye Thursday when House GOP lawmakers were surprised by a hot mic talking about potential retaliation against their Senate colleagues, including not hearing their bills and review an ethics complaint.
Eventually, the House members decided to go it alone. The House approved all 11 budget-related bills around 5 a.m. Saturday and adjourned until Monday, when the chamber plans to return and can complete its business for the session. Monday is Memorial Day.
Meanwhile, the Senate adjourned on Saturday night after it was clear the leadership still did not have enough support. They intend to return to work at 11 a.m. Monday.
The way forward for the budget is murky and depends heavily on what, if anything, the Senate does next week.
Graduation, ER visit dropout votes
In the House, Republicans hold 31 seats in the chamber compared to 29 for Democrats. This means that if a member is against a bill or is not present, the bill could not pass without the help of Democrats.
But Republicans didn’t need to cross the aisle to win support.
House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said Democrats have been repeatedly told they should pass the budget plan. While that includes some of the Democrats’ priorities, they were never involved in the negotiations, she said.
“I wish we had been brought to the table, I wish it had been a bipartisan budget, and I’m voting ‘no,'” she said when explaining her final vote on the Saturday budget.
The tighter vote count in the House left operations hanging by a thread a few times throughout Friday night.
Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, had to leave for a few hours to attend a graduation, and bills couldn’t be voted on in his absence. Voting resumed immediately upon his return.
Later that evening, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, left because his son had been taken to the emergency room. Again, the bills could not be considered.
Kavanagh returned to the House a few hours later and let members know his son was fine. Voting resumed.
What’s in the budget?
The $11.8 billion spending plan largely follows the budget originally proposed by Governor Doug Ducey in January.
Under the agreement between Republican leaders and the governor, the state would increase its rainy day fund to $1 billion, with injections of $271 million in the current fiscal year and over the next for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
A $130 million plan to expand Interstate 17 over the next three years in areas where motorists often encounter heavy traffic is also included in the deal.
The next stage of the plan to raise teachers’ salaries by 20% by 2020, a 5% increase, would take effect and $136 million in additional aid for schools would be included.
There is $15 million to expand academies that train teachers at universities across the state.
The $32 vehicle registration fee for public safety would be phased out over the next two years.
Ducey and Republican leaders also apparently reached an agreement on state income taxes, which were controversial due to changes at the federal level that indirectly increased state taxes this year for individuals.
Rep. Ben Toma’s plan, R-Peoria, would lower the tax rate and make changes to the child tax credit, standard deduction and charitable contribution deduction, more than offsetting the increase for 2019.
Changes appease wavering GOP members
During the debate on the main budget bill, Republicans rarely spoke. Democrats offered over 20 amendments, all of which failed, without even a question from a Republican legislator.
The House included several provisions that appeared to be aimed at gaining the support of any wavering member.
One would require the Arizona attorney general’s office to forward complaints about the use of school resources to influence elections to the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House, and the governor’s office.
The provision apparently relates to a bill that Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, tried to revive that would have punished school districts for political speech by teachers or staff members in the classroom.
While explaining her vote on the budget, Townsend said she cannot sit idly by while what she sees as political indoctrination is happening in schools.
“I am now satisfied to be able to go ahead and proudly vote yes with my colleagues on this budget,” she said.
Representative Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, say it Arizona Capitol Times earlier in the week that he too would be voting against the budget. One reason he cited: he wanted funding for trade offices in Mexico and Israel. The plan approved Saturday morning included $475,000 for two trade offices in Mexico and one in Israel.
The final changes also increased funding for several programs that were priorities for Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, who has so far opposed the budget in the Senate.
There’s more than $18 million for graduate medical education programs and $8 million for a University of Arizona health sciences center, both of which were included in a sponsored bill. by Carter this year.
Will the Senate make it?
Meanwhile, the Senate, often seen as the more orderly and mature older sibling of the two houses, was in disarray.
Republicans hold 17 Senate seats, while Democrats hold 13. Two GOP members confirmed they were still against the budget Friday night, condemning its fate without Democratic support.
When asked if the Senate would have the votes to pass the budget on Saturday, Senate Speaker Karen Fann, R-Prescott, replied, “That’s the goal.”
Senator JD Mesnard, who withheld his support unless the budget includes an income tax plan that lowers individual rates to hold all taxpayers harmless, said he was unaware of any progress Friday.
The Chandler Republican has not been offered a compromise by GOP leaders in the Senate, nor has he discussed it with the governor’s office.
Republican Phoenix Sen. Paul Boyer, who is withholding his vote on the budget until the Legislature agrees to increase the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, said he was always opposed and had not participated in any negotiations. The Senate leadership brought Carter in to discuss his problem instead. Carter had backed Boyer in the revolt against the Abuse Bill.
“I’m pretty sure you’ll know if there’s an agreement on the budget. Until then, I’m a no,” Boyer said in a text message.
How the budget got to this point
The winding, bumpy journey to a budget deal began May 19, when Bowers and Fann announced they had reached a budget deal with Ducey and were ready to discuss it with their members.
But even before that announcement, it was clear that several senators weren’t ready to play ball. One such resister, Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, changed her stance after convincing leaders to agree to phase out the $32 public safety vehicle registration fee over two years. instead of five.
Chambers had a few false starts — and plenty of inaction — during the week.
Appropriations committees in both houses approved the budget on Wednesday, though Senate Republicans had to add a member to the panel to ensure there were enough votes to clear that first hurdle.
On Thursday, the House had decided to start voting on the budget bills, regardless of the predicament of the Senate. They approved three money bills in the early hours of Friday morning, then returned to work at 10 a.m. that day.
After some jolts, the House continued through budget bills and a handful of other measures, working into Saturday morning.
On Friday, the Senate considered only non-budget bills, including measures on empowerment scholarship accounts for Native American students and funding for crisis pregnancy centers.
They called him for the night just after 9 p.m. They would come back on Saturday and try again.
Arizona Republic reporters Lily Altavena and Andrew Nicla contributed to this article.
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