Senate OKs $17.8B state budget, heads to Arizona House

PHOENIX – State senators approved a $17.8 billion spending plan negotiated between Gov. Katie Hobbs and Republican legislative leaders earlier Wednesday.

A vote on the bills that make up the budget came within 24 hours after all Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee refused to support the plan as unacceptable.

What happened in the meantime was that the governor himself called and started lining up a few party members. Hobbs was telling them that the plan had a lot of good points and couldn’t get any better.

Senate Majority Leader Mitzi Epstein said, “We’ve worked hard to make sure we have funding for education, this K-12 education, housing, especially the homeless. And we’ve put this into the budget. I said.

The Tempe Democrats attributed the fact that the deal negotiated by the Democratic governor left a universal voucher scheme that would allow all students in Arizona to obtain tax money for attending private or parochial schools. He said he was still “very dissatisfied”. Homeschooling.

But Epstein said he was forced to vote for the package, saying it was the price Democrats had to pay to include the priority.

“I didn’t want to vote yes on these budget bills,” she said. I had to vote yes. ”

The governor made her own comments in a prepared statement.

“Today we reached out across the aisle and showed the people of Arizona that compromises can be made and government can work.

But Epstein suggested he wasn’t sincere by praising the Democrats for finally agreeing to a plan the governor negotiated with Republican leaders.

“We wanted to be recognized for our dedication to prudent budgeting,” she said, adding that the governor agreed to include it in the plan for trying to limit unlimited vouchers.

“But instead of being recognized as real leaders, we’ve been called ‘battle politicians’ by the governor’s communications director,” Epstein said, tearing deals with Hobbs and Republicans. By trying to

Epstein said the new budget-funded fiscal year doesn’t, in theory, start until July 1, so Democrats can hold out for a few more weeks.

“But this is the budget that is in front of us today,” Epstein said.

The package is now awaiting House action later Wednesday.

But Epstein’s claims about whether a better deal will be negotiated are speculation at best.

Senate Speaker Pro-Tem TJ Shope said the election of a Democratic governor in November meant he could get the budget that would have passed if a Republican was enacted as the state’s chief executive officer. He said it was always clear that he couldn’t. Coolidge Republicans said they were open to negotiations.

But Republican leaders also made it clear to the governor from the start that some issues were non-negotiable.

That didn’t stop the Legislative Democrats from making last-minute proposals to put some restrictions in place.

Senator Catherine Miranda (D-Phoenix) tried to limit the total number of Universal Vouchers to 69,000 students. She said this would allow for a 25% increase from the current approximately 56,000 students eligible for the expansion program, while potentially adding about $500 million a year to the state budget within three years. We said we would never reach a point.

Republicans voted against the idea.

Democratic Phoenix Senator Christine Marsh couldn’t beat her proposal to require the fingerprinting of teachers and staff at schools that accept voucher payments.

“This is to ensure that no one with a criminal record of any kind is allowed to teach in these private schools. Public schools already do.”

However, it drew ridicule from Senator Anthony Kahn, R-Glendale. He pointed out that Democrats have refused to support a proposal to require anyone who must register as a sex offender to notify the schools their children attend.

“So now we hear they’re worried about their children,” Khan said. “I think this is a lot of politicization.”

Despite the defeat of both amendments, both Miranda and Marsh voted for the portion of the budget that included these unlimited universal vouchers.

Marsh said voting against is not a viable option. She said there were “some goodies” in the package – even though there was no cap on the voucher.

And then there’s something else.

“The alternative was worse,” Marsh said, meaning a budget that left out what the Democrats wanted and packaged it.

One is to redistribute the $68 million allocated only to high-performing schools and instead allocate it permanently to all schools. The approved plan includes a one-off injection of her $300 million in cash into a K-12 school.

It also includes suspending constitutional restrictions on K-12 spending, at least for the next school year. This will allow schools to spend legislative-allocated funds without waiting for last-minute legislative approval as they did this year.

But Senator Lella Alston, the longest-serving Democrat in the legislature since 1977, said she could not support plans to offer unlimited vouchers to state-sponsored private school students. They say there is a risk of financial collapse.

Alston compared this to the “alternative fuel” crisis of 30 years ago. Lawmakers have agreed to offer generous tax credits to people who purchase vehicles that can run on anything other than gasoline, or convert existing gas-fueled cars and trucks to something else.

Lawmakers were sold the bill at a price tag of $10 million, with the promise that perhaps only 300 would make demands. He eventually ballooned to over $600 million before legislators scrapped the credit.

“I was here for that,” Alston said. “And I think this has the same potential.”

Like Alston, Senator Priya Sundareshan of Tucson, who voted against every part of the budget, was particularly unhappy with tax cuts in which the conservative Arizona Freedom Caucus was inserted into the Hobbes-approved package. rice field. Only those who have paid some taxes in the last three years are eligible to receive a one-time $250 (up to $750) credit for each child she has.

“What this means is that the most vulnerable and needy families do not actually benefit from this tax refund,” Sundareshan said. Credit for donations to other programs for homelessness and education.

But R-Queen Creek Senator Jake Hoffman, one of the planners, defended it.

“Arizona families are currently overwhelmed by rising food and fuel costs. Our job is to do everything we can to support Arizona families and Arizona citizens to the best of our ability. That’s it.”

Hoffman also noted that the state will enter the new budget year with a surplus of $2.4 billion.

“It means you are burdening your citizens too much. It means robbing.”

But most of those dollars were allocated to various programs and projects to put together a package and get votes. This included not only additional funding for K-12 education, but the Republican leadership’s decision to allow each person who agreed to vote for the budget to allocate the budget to their favorite projects. .

An extension of State Route 24, Hoffman and other local lawmakers spent $87.5 million on a new highway being built to connect Loop 202 to Pinal County.

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