Lawmakers put state budget on fast track to passage, Dems remain opposed
Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror
A budget deal brokered by Gov. Katie Hobbs and legislative Republicans is speeding toward passage, even as Democratic lawmakers protest the spending plan and are decrying the process as “unprecedented.”
The state Senate is preparing to debate the budget Tuesday night and vote on them in the early morning hours of Wednesday, while the state House of Representatives is tentatively scheduled to take up the bills later on Wednesday.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate moved the package of budget bills out of their respective Appropriations committees Tuesday, with the House Appropriation Committee considering all 16 budget bills (along with two other bills) in one single motion and without taking any testimony, a move that frustrated and angered Democratic legislators.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
“That is just unprecedented,” Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said later during a Democratic caucus meeting. Budget analysts told her they did not know if a budget had ever been considered in a similar fashion.
House Appropriations Chair David Livingston also limited comments from lawmakers to three minutes and denied a motion by Salman asking for legislative staff to give explanations on the budget bills, which were introduced late Monday. Livingston said legislators had plenty of time to read the bills, as well as summary information that had been provided to lawmakers. No public testimony was given on the bills before the House Appropriations Committee.
The budget proposal has been the work of closed-door negotiations between Hobbs’ office and legislative Republicans over recent weeks. Salman claimed during Tuesday’s contentious House Appropriations meeting that Livingston himself had not seen the proposal until May 5.
Democratic lawmakers and high-profile Democrats, including Attorney General Kris Mayes, have panned the budget, with Mayes threatening to sue Hobbs and legislature over cuts to her office and Democratic legislators stating that Hobbs reneged on earlier promises to rein in state spending on a universal school voucher program created last year that is on pace to cost $500 million in the upcoming year — far more than the $30 million that budget analysts anticipated.
But Republican lawmakers have been touting the budget as a win for Arizonans, citing tax rebates, investments in education and historic investments in the Arizona Department of Housing. Additionally, the bundled motion in House Appropriations included legislation to circumvent a school spending cap in 2024, something that Democratic lawmakers have called for.
“If we were to vote on this separately, the vote count would look very, very differently,” Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D-Tucson, said about the Democratic members who voted no on the grouped motion.
The vote tallies were different in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where each bill was heard separately and every budget bill passed along a party line vote. In the Senate, the public was also allowed to voice their support or opposition to the budget.
Tory Roberg, a lobbyist for the Alzheimer’s Association, applauded the budget for its investments in Alzheimer’s research and a dementia awareness program at the Arizona Department of Health Services. Arizona has a high and fast growing rate of the disease.
Others, like Amy Love, Mayes’ chief of staff, voiced their displeasure with the budget proposal during the hearing, specifically as it relates to settlement money from opioid manufacturers who were found to be liable for their part in the opioid crisis.
Love said that the budget “pillaged” those funds, which the AG’s Office needs to fund full-time employees. Since no general fund dollars would be available, she said they’d be holding the consumer complaints division together with “duct tape basically at this point.”
Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, shot back at Love, asking her why her predecessor Mark Brnovich had requested less from the same fund but never had a similar issue.
“You’re looking at this entire pot of money and you have dollar signs in your eyes,” Hoffman said. “It just seems like you see a big pot of money and you wanna grab at it.”
Love asked Hoffman to review an amendment to the budget bill proposed by the AG’s Office, but the committee never took up the amendment or discussed it.
After the hearing was over, Livingston sent a letter to Mayes about Love’s remarks. He defended Hoffman and pointed out that the funds Love \requested are to be directed and distributed by the Legislature, per the settlement agreement.
One bill before the Senate Appropriations Committee failed where its House counterpart didn’t. A bill to continue AHCCCS, the state’s Medicare system, along with a litany of state boards that oversee things such as dentistry, cosmetology and others.
“A little lighter on government,” Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, quipped, as the bill failed on a 5-5 vote.
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.