As Hobbs touted her vision of Arizona’s future, Republicans gave her a chilly reception
Republican and Democratic leaders have promised to work together this year on issues vital to Arizona like housing, water and education, but if the Republican response to Gov. Katie’s Hobbs’ State of the State speech is any indication, they have a long way to go to reach any consensus.
Hobbs, a Democrat, kicked off the state’s annual legislative session on Monday with a more than 45-minute speech that included a long list of priorities, including alleviating the crisis at Arizona’s southern border, passing a balanced budget, dealing with water issues, making the school voucher program more accountable and ensuring abortion access.
Some of her proposals, such as increasing access to reproductive health care and putting more guardrails on the school voucher program, are never going to garner Republican support — both spurred Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, to turn his back on Hobbs — but the vast majority of Republicans didn’t even applaud Hobbs’ promise to increase teacher pay, something GOP legislators themselves have also proposed.
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The two notable exceptions were Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, and Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, who both stood to applaud the teacher pay increase. Gress and Bennett were also the only two members of their party who stood to applaud Hobbs after she concluded her speech.
Hobbs will undoubtedly face an uphill battle in accomplishing some of her goals, with pushback from Republicans, who hold a one-vote majority in both chambers of the legislature.
Before Hobbs began her speech on Monday, Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, indicated he plans to work across the aisle to achieve Republican priorities, like a balanced budget, lower gas prices and solutions at the border.
But while House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said he agreed with Petersen’s priorities, he also issued a firm message about the school voucher program.
“Any effort to eliminate or undermine parental choice in education will not succeed,” Toma said, to applause and cheers from the Republicans side of the room.
The most animated responses from the Democratic side came after Hobbs’ promise to ensure access to abortion.
“I truly believe that fighting for Arizona families means defending every individual’s right to make their own reproductive health care decisions,” Hobbs said to cheers and applause from Democrats.
“I will always defend Arizonans’ freedoms, and I refuse to back down in the face of those who want to criminalize doctors and outlaw abortion,” Hobbs said. “That’s not happening on my watch.”
She proposed what she called common sense bills to expand access to abortion, including a repeal of the near-total ban on abortion that dates to 1864, passing the Right to Contraception Act and ending the government’s practice of collecting and publishing data on every abortion in the state.
Sen. Anthony Kern (R-Glendale) shows his displeasure with Gov. Katie Hobbs’ State of the State speech on Jan. 8, 2024, by turning his back on the governor. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror
Hobbs was not shy in her criticism of the federal government for its failure to address the crisis at the border, and its decision to shut down the Lukeville port of entry, which she said “did nothing to actually solve our immigration crisis but did hurt businesses and families.”
“My administration worked tirelessly to reverse this short-sighted action by the federal government and took extraordinary steps – including sending the National Guard to the border – to bring security and common sense to this situation,” Hobbs said, adding that this session she aimed to seek ongoing funding for a better coordinated border response.
In a response video to the governor’s speech, Toma called Hobbs’ comments on the border nothing more than grandstanding, saying that she has a record of supporting an open border.
Petersen even accused Hobbs of contributing to the border crisis through her vetoes of Republican proposals last year that would have identified drug cartels as terrorist groups and declared fentanyl trafficking at the border a public health crisis. He also criticized her for advocating for the removal of the shipping container barrier built by her Republican predecessor Doug Ducey.
The barrier violated federal law and Ducey initiated the structure’s removal before he left office.
Hobbs highlighted her success in helping to protect the future of the state’s water, with the cancellation of a lease of state-owned land in La Paz County to Fondomonte, a Saudi Arabian company that pumped water unchecked to irrigate its alfalfa crops.
“However, just because we have been successful in the past does not mean we can relax about the future,” Hobbs said. “We can reject the doomsayers, but we must always have open and honest conversations about our water resources — not shy away because they can be difficult.”
She promised to continue working with farmers, and urban and rural communities to secure the state’s water future, and to update Arizona’s groundwater management laws for rural residents.
“We all recognize that our state is growing and we must continue to adapt while maintaining our long-held status as a national leader in water management,” Hobbs said. “Our water standards are the key to our strong economy. I refuse to sacrifice them for unchecked growth. But I will continue in Arizona’s bipartisan tradition of growing our economy while protecting our state’s most precious resource.”
Hobbs also highlighted her direction to the Arizona Department of Water Resources to create a new way for water providers and communities that rely on groundwater to shore up a 100-year assured water supply by using new water sources to reduce groundwater pumping.
“Let us remember that water and drought do not care about party registration or job titles or whether you live in an urban or rural community. We can only protect our water supply by working together,” Hobbs said.
Gov. Katie Hobbs delivers her State of the State address on Jan. 8, 2024. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror
Hobbs touched on the legislature’s biggest responsibility each year, passing the annual budget, which already faces a deficit of $400 million that is expected to grow to more than $800 million.
“To all those who call this state home, let me share this message: we will not shirk our responsibilities and we will not kick the can down the road for our children and the next generation to solve,” Hobbs said. “And we will not cut spending on vital services.”
During the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s 2024 Legislative Forecast event last week, Hobbs promised not to make cuts to health care, public education and public safety, which account for some 75% of the state budget.
Even as Hobbs touted the state’s strong job market, with 56,000 new jobs in 2023 and $32 billion in foreign investments, she also lamented the inability of many middle class families to purchase a home of their own.
“As you can see, our state’s economy is strong and its opportunities are abundant,” Hobbs said, “however, we cannot ignore the fact that for Arizonans across all age, color, and geographical boundaries, our housing affordability crisis has erased feelings of prosperity for too many.”
In the past year, the state directed $150 million toward rental assistance programs and allocated money to give legal aid to those facing eviction or housing instability and sped up the ward of low-income housing tax credits to speed up the building of affordable housing.
She said those were just starting points, and announced the Arizona Is Home Mortgage Assistance Program to help working class families with down payments and mortgage interest rate relief, giving a family of four making up to $75,000 per year help purchasing an affordable home.
“These are good, tangible steps to creating access to housing at affordable prices — but they alone will not solve the crisis across our state,” Hobbs said. “I look forward to working with any member of this Legislature to find innovative and effective solutions to help Arizonans access the homes they and their loved ones need to thrive.”
In the response video, Petersen blamed Hobbs for exacerbating the housing crisis by issuing a moratorium on new home building in two booming areas of the Valley to protect the groundwater supply.
Hobbs lauded last year’s bipartisan accomplishment in overriding the school spending cap for one year, but called this year for a lasting solution that would avoid schools facing billions in cuts.
She encouraged the lawmakers to help her overhaul Proposition 123, was first OK’d by voters in 2016 that funneled $3.5 billion over the past decade into public education. Republicans have a proposal to do that, but to direct all of the money to teacher pay instead of overall school operations, an idea Hobbs has been cool to.
Hobbs said that it was vital this year to increase pay for teachers and support staff, as well as to increase the transparency of the school voucher program, which is wildly over budget after lawmakers opened it up to every Arizona student in 2022.
“It is our responsibility as stewards of this state to put in place guardrails to ensure taxpayer dollars dedicated to education are used properly,” Hobbs said. “Without these guardrails, waste, fraud, and abuse take root and thrive.”
The governor proposed a guideline that students be required to attend public school for at least 100 days before being allowed to receive a state-funded voucher to attend private or home schooling, a proposal that she claimed would save the state a quarter-billion dollars.
Hobbs also asked the legislature to help her create an engineering-focused medical school at Arizona State University; to double the size of medical schools at University of Arizona and to start a new medical school at Northern Arizona University with a focus on serving rural and tribal communities, in efforts to address the state’s shortage of medical providers.
And she called for action to ensure that long term care homes and sober living homes in the state provide quality care to their residents, after both were the subjects of scandals and abuse over the past year. Hobbs also promised to work toward making health care, and especially prescription drugs, more affordable for Arizonans who need them.
In response to the state of the state speech, Petersen said he was “gravely concerned” about the direction in which Hobbs is leading the state.
“They want to transform it into the same kind of blue state that people are currently fleeing in droves,” he said.
Toma added a promise to hold Hobbs accountable if she doesn’t follow Arizona law.
“This is what we’re all about: balance, commonsense and sanity, and we will continue to put legislation on the governor’s desk this year reflecting that,” Petersen said.