Hobbs signs budget, touts it as a ‘compromise’ by ‘pragmatic leaders’
With the stroke of a pen on Thursday, Gov. Katie Hobbs approved a $17.8 billion dollar budget, despite criticism from progressive organizations and many in her own party.
In an emailed statement, the Democrat celebrated her first budget as a win for bipartisanship that reflects the split government leading Arizona.
“Today, we showed what happens when pragmatic leaders come together and compromise to get things done for Arizonans,” she wrote.
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The plan was the result of months of closed-door negotiations with GOP leadership after proposals from the majority party and her own office were met with acrimonious opposition. And while the final version drew backlash from Democrats who denounced it for not going far enough, most voted for it, though many added they felt obligated to.
Hobbs touted record investments made in housing, education and the state’s Native American communities. The plan includes a historic $150 million funding boost for the state’s Housing Trust Fund — a key priority for Hobbs — and a one-time injection of $300 million into K-12 education, along with $88.6 million in ongoing money for Arizona public schools and $341.9 million for school repairs. The state’s Native American tribes were allocated $126.1 million for tribal projects.
But another of Hobbs’ top priorities, repealing the state’s skyrocketing universal voucher expansion, known officially as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, was conspicuously absent. The omission was a particular sore point among public education advocates who warned failing to rein it in would be devastating for public schools in the future.
Save Our Schools Arizona, which campaigned against the expansion but failed to successfully repeal it via the referendum process, was outraged by the decision not to cap the program.
“Governor Hobbs abandoned her vow to repeal or slow the growth of the universal ESA voucher program,” said the group, in an emailed statement. “It is abundantly clear that this inaction will accelerate the dismantling of public education, bankrupt our economy, and siphon desperately needed funds for schools and other essential public services.”
The state’s largest teacher’s union, the Arizona Education Association, similarly lamented the failure to restrict the voucher expansion, while celebrating K-12 funding increases.
“These investments will translate into higher educator pay, better benefits, smaller class sizes and other improvements, helping us keep highly qualified educators in Arizona’s schools,” said President Marisol Garcia. “At the same time, it’s extremely frustrating that this budget does not address the growth of the state’s out-of-control voucher program.”
Arizona Republicans, meanwhile, lauded the plan as a “fiscally conservative” win for families across the state, highlighting the budget’s tax rebates.
“As part of the budget plan, for the first time in at least three decades, Republican Legislators are providing Arizona families with one-time tax rebates. We hope this money will make life a little easier for our hard-working citizens as we approach the Christmas holiday season,” said Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek.
The budget includes a one-time $250 tax refund for families with dependents younger than 17 in 2021. Families with children older than 17 can expect to see $100 per child. But only Arizonans with at least $1 of tax liability will see a benefit, a caveat that earned criticism from Democrats, who pointed out that the neediest families won’t be helped.
GOP leadership celebrated successfully deterring any attempt to restrict the voucher program, and cutting off more progressive policies.
“Senate Republicans prevented the Governor and Democrat Legislators from advancing their extremist agenda. State funded abortions and tuition-free college education for undocumented immigrants will not happen in Arizona,” Senate President Warren Petersen said in a written statement lauding the budget. “We’re also not capping, cutting or eliminating the historic universal school choice program that now has more than 50,000 participants. Needless to say, your Republican Majority at the Legislature will continue to fight to protect Arizona from turning into California at the hands of the radical left.”
A proposal from Hobbs to allocate $40 million for a Dreamer scholarship program to mirror an equivalent investment into the state’s existing low-income scholarship fund, which undocumented students don’t qualify for, was rejected in the final budget plan, much to the disappointment of pro-immigrant advocacy groups. And a provision in Hobbs’ original budget proposal to free up state-funded grants for programs that are more inclusive of reproductive choices also didn’t make it into the final plan.
Republicans also lauded record investments in local transportation projects. More than $600 million was set aside for road expansions and repairs. Much of that funding was the result of a unique approach to budget-crafting: Individual lawmakers were allotted a share of the state’s surplus to invest as a way to garner their support for the budget, and several community-focused projects occurred as a result, including an $87.5 million to extend State Route 24.
Despite courting ire from members of her own party, who complained of being shut out of budget negotiations and “grudgingly” voting for the final proposal, Hobbs called the budget an example of successful across-the-aisle teamwork and reiterated her commitment to future bipartisan solutions.
“I’m glad legislative leaders were able to come together to deliver for Arizona, and I look forward to our continued partnership,” she said.
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