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Republicans in the Arizona legislature want to deal with the state budget, the passage of which is arguably the legislature’s most important annual task, in an unorthodox fashion this year.
GOP leaders in both the state House of Representatives and Senate announced Thursday a plan to focus first on a spending plan that continues funding at current levels before opening negotiations with Gov. Katie Hobbs on a complete spending plan.
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The only increases to current spending in their plan would be formulaic, to deal with rising costs or caseloads.
Only after that budget is in place will Republicans consider spending any additional funds that would be allocated through a more traditional budgeting process for fiscal year 2024, which begins in July, Republican Sen. T.J. Shope told the Arizona Mirror.
“With the state of the national economy in limbo, a continuation budget is the fiscally prudent, conservative approach for Arizona to safeguard essential governmental services,” Republican leaders in the House said in a news release. “Last year, the Legislature passed a state budget with historic infrastructure investments, tax relief, and debt pay-downs.”
Hobbs’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Republican plan.
Republicans will introduce bills for the so-called continuation budget “in the coming weeks,” according to Shope, and their “goal is to have something on the governor’s desk by early February.”
Shope told the Mirror that Republican leaders hope the continuation budget will garner bipartisan support, like last year’s budget did.
“I’d hope Dems excitedly vote for a measure they excitedly voted for last session, but we’ll see,” he said. “We’re walking our caucus members through it and I’m sure the House will be doing the same.”
But the response to the Republicans’ plan from the Arizona Senate Democratic Caucus makes bipartisan support seem unlikely, at least at this stage.
“We are only interested in commenting on substance, and their press release lacks any true vision for the financial future of our state,” the caucus said in a statement to the Mirror. “We are eagerly awaiting the governor’s budget release (Friday), as well.”
It’s also unclear if this continuation of last year’s budget will have unanimous Republican support, as a handful of Republicans voted against the $18 billion budget because it spent too much money.
Last year, an attempt by GOP leaders to pass a so-called “skinny budget” that simply maintained existing spending was rejected. Some Republicans said that even maintaining that spending was too much, while others said it was irresponsible to not address the billions of dollars in surplus that existed at the time.
“We intend to build on last session’s successes and craft a budget that continues to champion fiscal responsibility, funding for key services, and relief for Arizonans,” the Republican House leaders said. “We anticipate a legitimate and spirited debate with the Governor’s Office on new spending, but that debate should not happen with a loaded weapon pointed at essential services.”
As part of the continuation budget process, Shope said that Republicans plan to deal with the aggregate expenditure limit, a school spending cap that districts will hit on March 1. If the state doesn’t lift the cap, schools won’t be able to spend more than $1.3 billion given to them in the current budget, causing layoffs and possibly school closures.
Republicans will bring bills aimed at lifting the AEL through the normal committee process before voting on them as part of the continuation budget, Shope said.
“Senate Republicans have always allowed schools to spend the funding allocated to them, and this year should be no different,” Shope said in a written statement from Republican Senate leaders. “The Senate Republican Leadership Team will work ardently to prevent cuts to school budgets this year. We will come up with a solution to address this issue in a timely fashion. However, the cap was put in by voters for a purpose, and we vow to not rush the deliberative, thoughtful Legislative process that allows for maximum input from all Arizona citizens.”
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