Democrats push back against bipartisan budget bills
Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs and Republican lawmakers have negotiated a budget, with a slew of budget bills filed Monday, but Democratic lawmakers and even the Arizona Attorney General are pushing back.
“Today, we see a budget proposal moving forward that appears to be politically expedient for a few, but wholly inadequate for the majority of people in our state,” Democratic AG Kris Mayes said in a tweet thread about the budget proposal.
The $17.8 billion budget is poised to be the largest in the state’s history but is leaving Democratic lawmakers upset at Hobbs as it reduces funding for large projects and state agencies and does not roll back funding for the state’s universal school voucher program, a promise Hobbs made to her caucus back in January.
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“If there is no cap on ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Account) vouchers in this budget, we will have a catastrophic deficit next year,” Senate Minority leader Mitzi Epstein took to Twitter to say about the budget, a sentiment echoed by many of her Democratic colleagues.
In my capacity as President Pro Tempore of the #AZSenate, I just had the opportunity to assign the bills relating to the #AZBudget to the Senate Committee on Appropriations, which will meet tomorrow morning to consider them. This budget delivers for all Arizonans and I’m honored… pic.twitter.com/BsTRQBIoYr
— T.J. Shope (@TJShopeforAZ) May 9, 2023
The ESA expansion was behind the historic bipartisan 2023 state budget passed late in the night in June 2022, as part of a compromise for other K-12 funding and other budget priorities. School advocacy groups like Save Our Schools Arizona are already condemning this year’s budget proposal, saying that it fails public schools.
“Gov. Hobbs must honor her promise to public schools by negotiating a growth cap this year on the universal ESA voucher program as a basic measure of fiscal stewardship,” Save Our Schools Director Beth Lewis said in a press release. “Arizona’s 1.1 million public school students are counting on Gov. Hobbs to honor her commitment to roll back the universal voucher program and prioritize our public schools.”
The budget includes some appropriations for Arizona’s schools, such as a one-time appropriation of $77 million in 2024-2025 for the “new school facilities fund” and a $50 million increase in school safety grants.
The budget includes myriad local and pet projects aimed at creating bipartisan support for the budget, such as a psilocybin research grant program based on a Republican bill and $15 million for a rodeo in Yavapai County.
Hobbs’ bipartisan budget also includes a tax rebate of $250 to parents with dependents younger than 17 and $100 for those with dependents 17 and older. It would apply to those who have at least $1 of tax liability, which excludes the majority of Arizona’s low-income families.
The budget also includes some of Hobbs’ priorities she had previously outlined in her State of the State address. Within the budget is a pilot program to recover brackish groundwater and to desalinate it. Hobbs has said that water is one of her priorities.
Also included in the budget is $20 million to the Arizona Department of Housing to go to programs for those experiencing homelessness, $5.6 million to the state hospital, $500,000 for a program to help hire and retain truck drivers and $12 million for a program to help those recovering from opioid addiction.
The budget also has a number of public safety measures, such as $750,000 for a “pepper ball pilot program” that will be divided among the Chandler, Mesa and Tucson Police Departments. The police departments of Flagstaff, Mohave and Casa Grande, along with the Maricopa and Navajo County Sheriff’s Office, will be getting firearm training simulators from a $1.3 million appropriation in the budget.
Also in the budget is a scholarship program for spouses and dependents of law enforcement.
The House budget bills are sponsored by Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, and have been assigned to the House Appropriations Committee where they are scheduled to be heard Tuesday morning and the Senate version of the bills are sponsored by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, and have been assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Kavanagh sponsored the “skinny budget” that Hobbs vetoed earlier this year. If Democratic members are opposed to the bills, they will need to pull off members of the Republican caucus to have any chance of stopping their passage.