Ducey gets tough with lawmakers on budget - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Ducey gets tough with lawmakers on budget

June 6th, 2021 development
Ducey gets tough with lawmakers on budget

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

Senate President Karen Fann said the decision by Gov. Doug Ducey to veto bills because he hasn’t seen a budget will only make it harder to reach that goal.

Fann told Capitol Media Services it’s bad enough that the governor seems to be ignoring the fact that Republicans do not have a lot of wiggle room to line up the votes.

That’s because it will take all 16 Senate Republicans and 31 in the House to approve any spending and tax-cut package. And that, in turn, empowers each GOP legislator to hold out for his or her priorities.

But what’s worse, she said, is that many of the 22 bills he vetoed on Friday were crafted and sponsored by lawmakers who were the most supportive of the $12.8 billion spending plan and $1.9 billion in tax cuts. And all Ducey and his aides managed to do is annoy their friends.

“I don’t know what they were thinking,” she said.

Fann isn’t alone in her thinking.

“I don’t think the governor’s move helped us especially” said House Speaker Rusty Bowers.

But Bowers told Capitol Media Services he remains confident that a deal can be cobbled together that will get the necessary votes even if they’re not happy with everything in the package.

“We ask people to hold their nose,” Bowers continued. “There are things that everybody doesn’t like.” Bowers had an interesting take on how Ducey’s veto of the 22 bills – all but three sponsored by Republicans – actually could help bring about some consensus at least within the GOP caucus, if not with Ducey.

“It kind of unifies people in one way,”’ he said. “It makes them uniformly mad.”

Upset with what he sees as lack of progress, Gov. Doug Ducey vowed Friday to veto any other legislation that reaches his desk until he gets a budget.

“This weekend marks one month until the end of the fiscal year and Arizonans are counting on us to work together and pass a budget that provides certainty to taxpayers and citizens,” the governor said in a prepared statement.

The list of now-dead items ranges from the use of public dollars for “critical race theory’’ and changes in election laws to registration of sex offenders and ensuring that women at state prisons get free access to feminine hygiene products.

Less clear is what has to be in the spending and tax-cut plan to get Ducey to relent.

Press aide C.J. Karamargin told Capitol Media Services that the governor’s threat is not tied to adoption of his specific $12.8 billion spending plan and $1.9 billion in permanent tax cuts. But Ducey suggested that’s pretty much what he wants.

“On the table is a budget agreement that makes responsible and significant investments in K-12 education, higher education, infrastructure and local communities, all while delivering historic tax relief to working families and small businesses,” he wrote.

He told Fann and Bowers in a letter he looks forward to partnering with them “to focus on what matters and pass a budget.’’

Legislative leaders were working earlier last week to line up the votes among Republican lawmakers. But when a consensus could not be reached, they decided to send everyone home until June 10.

That allowed lawmakers, who had presumed the session would be over in late April as scheduled, to pursue their travel and vacation plans.

Those decisions did not sit well with Ducey.

“The governor believes the Arizona Legislature should do its job,” Karamargin said.

“There is no more important job at this time and the budget,’’ he continued. “And the next fiscal year is a month away.

The governor, in a separate Twitter post, said his vetoes should not be seen as commenting on the merits of any bill.

“Some are good policy, but with one month left until the end of the fiscal year, we need to focus on passing a budget,’’ he wrote. “That should be Priority One. The other stuff can wait.’’

Nothing keeps lawmakers from sending the same proposals back to Ducey later this year – assuming they do it after there is a budget and he dissolves his veto threat.

But there is no procedure in the Arizona Constitution to “un-veto’’ a bill. That means having to start over again from scratch, either with entirely new bills and public hearings or find ways to insert their provisions into the budget package.

Ducey’s move, while unusual, is not without precedent.

In 2013, Republican Jan Brewer announced she would not sign any measures until there was resolution of a new state budget. And in that case, the then-governor also wanted the Republican-controlled legislature to include her plan to expand Medicaid.

Lawmakers were not happy then, with Andy Biggs, then the Senate president, calling it “extortion or blackmail.’’ But Brewer eventually got what she wanted.

And Ducey himself took a page from Brewer’s playbook in 2018 when he vetoed 10 bills on his desk because lawmakers had yet to give him a budget with his proposed 20 percent raise for teachers. He relented after he got what he wanted.

One particular sticking point this time is that $1.9 billion reduction in revenue would occur if Arizona enacts a flat income tax structure and alters other income tax laws to shield wealthier residents from a voter-approved income tax surcharge to help fund K-12 education.

Several legislators, citing the cyclical nature of the Arizona economy, question the wisdom of a permanent tax cut. That’s because while it takes only a simple majority to reduce tax rates, it would take a two-thirds vote to raise them if the need arose.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Arizona cities get 15 percent of what the state collects in income taxes.