By BOB CHRISTIE – Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona is teeming with cash, but lawmakers have been at an impasse over the state’s budget for the coming year for weeks and are now looking for unusual solutions to try to break the impasse. .
Republicans who hold only one vote in the Senate and House have begun talking openly about enacting a “continuation budget,” which funds the government only at current-year levels plus adjustments to inflation last week.
That plan surfaced in the House on Monday, though its prospects look uncertain at best.
The current budget is $12.8 billion, and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey had proposed increases for the coming fiscal year to $14.3 billion.
The new plan would leave a huge $5.3 billion cash surplus in the Treasury, even after accounting for $1.7 billion in income tax cuts enacted by the Legislature against the Democratic opposition unified last year. Actual tax cuts are on hold as opponents have collected enough signatures to block them until voters can approve or reject them in November.
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Republican-aligned groups sued the referendum, but a judge said in December the voters have the right to decide the question. The Arizona Supreme Court is hearing an appeal of that decision on Tuesday, the same day lawmakers reached the 100th day of the 2022 session, when they are supposed to adjourn for the year. GOP lawmakers hope to avoid the referendum by repealing the tax cuts and reinstating them.
A host of other priorities would also be bypassed, with a view to adopting them after the main estimates or at a special session.
“We have a constitutional duty and that is to pass a budget,” Republican Senate Speaker Karen Fann said last week. “We waited five weeks to get to the budget and we couldn’t because we have an MP trying to negotiate the budget on his own.
House Republican Majority Leader Ben Toma also used the term “constitutional duty.”
“And going on a continuation budget just seems like a good option at this point,” Toma said. “We don’t have to (adjourn) right after. However, it is an option. And once we’re done with our constitutional duty, then we can do it, and if the members want to stay unreasonable, at least we did what we were supposed to do.
The only person Fann was referring to is Republican Sen. Paul Boyer of Glendale, who wants to use $850 million to increase funding for K-12 schools near the level voters approved in 2020 on Proposition 208 now dead.
Boyer also wants school vouchers for all low-income students, who don’t have votes in the House. It calls for the removal of a constitutional cap on school spending that nearly led to a statewide shutdown earlier this year, and a permanent solution to the “fiscal cliff” of school funding looming on the horizon Proposition 123. Voters approved this measure designed by Ducey in 2016.
It increases annual withdrawals from the state land trust and adds new state cash to increase funding for schools by about $300 million a year, but these stop after 2025. Boyer wants That voters continue this funding and eliminate a provision that caps school funding at 50% of state general fund spending.
School spending is close to that mark, and any increases or cuts in funding in other parts of state spending would trigger an end to annual increases in school inflation.
If a base budget is enacted, there would also be a host of priorities that Ducey set out in his January budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The $14.3 billion spending plan calls for spending $1 billion over three years on new water projects, spending on a new earned income credit for low-income taxpayers and more.
“I could be wrong, but I don’t know if he wants his legacy to leave $5 billion to his predecessor and not hit the water,” Boyer said.
Boyer said he also thought it was unrealistic to assume anything could be accomplished in a special session. This is especially true in an election year when members want the session to end so they can campaign.
Ducey’s spokesman, CJ Karamargin, said Monday the governor was confident a budget deal would be reached given his shared priorities with GOP lawmakers and his agreement on important policy issues.
“And through the policies that we worked on together, we created a $5 billion surplus,” Karamargin said, “it will work out.”
House Speaker Rusty Bowers said weeks of deadlock had left the legislature “stuck”.
“We can move, but the governor said he would veto anything that’s not part of the budget plan that he wants,” Bowers said.
Sen. Rebecca Rios, the Democratic Minority Leader, acknowledged that Republicans wanted to sidestep Boyer by passing a base budget with some Democratic support. But she said she doubts anyone actually thinks Ducey would sign him given his stated spending priorities, which include big increases for the Department of Public Safety and a host of other new spending.
“I really don’t see him all of a sudden saying OK, yeah, whatever,” Rios said. “So why spin our wheels and send something to the governor that we’re pretty sure he’s going to veto?”
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