By Terri Jo Neff
Senate President Karen Fann will try one more time this week to pull together the 16 votes needed to pass the budget bills, something she could not do Wednesday when one of the 30 senators did not come to work.
The Republican-majority Senate stands in recess until 11 a.m. Thursday at which time several bills are scheduled to be considered, most of which are budget-related. There was hope Wednesday that the 16 Republicans would pass the bills, but Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s daylong absence quashed that option.
Fann and Majority Leader Sen. Rick Gray need the entire Senate Republican caucus on board, so if it appears the 16 votes are not a sure thing Thursday then Fann can simply recess her chamber until June 10, a plan put into place Wednesday night after House Speaker Rusty Bowyers chose to recess his chamber for several days.
In the meantime, the fate of the months-long negotiated spending budget, tax cuts, and plan to transition Arizona to a flat rate income tax remains uncertain, according to budget-watchers. And that may not bode well for the flat tax plan which Republicans have sought for years.
“Right now, the flat tax proposal is still being negotiated among members to address a couple of concerns,” according to Scot Mussi, head of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. “The first concern is the alleged impact on cities and towns due to revenue sharing. Cities are arguing that the tax cut will result in a massive cut in shared revenue from the state.”
But Mussi pointed out that flat tax supporters, including AFEC, believe cities are enjoying budget surpluses -in some cities quite sizable surpluses- and continue to receive a large infusion of new revenue from the taxation of online remote sales.
“The second concern was that the proposed tax package included a tranche of special interest tax breaks, which groups like ours oppose,” Mussi said. “It is our understanding that most of these tax breaks, including one for low income housing and another for wealthy investors, will be removed from the plan.”
But Mussi says groups like AFEC continue to support this year’s budget plan -minus the special interest tax breaks.
“Currently, Arizona has one of the highest income tax rates in the nation and we are uncompetitive compared to our low tax neighbors. The proposed tax plan goes a long way toward addressing this problem,” he explained.
With uncertainty over whether Fann has the 16 votes in the Senate and House Speaker Rusty Bowyers has his 31 votes, Mussi says the budget negotiations are likely not over.
“There is still a lot of horse trading occurring, much of which will continue,” he said. “Some of the demands still being made related to the budget is to rein in some of the pork barrel spending, make tweaks to the tax plan to address concerns with the cities, and to address other policy issues such as election integrity and school choice.”
And what about Fann and Bowyers trying to poach support from a few Democrats if not all Republicans are on board soon? Mussi believes the only budget bills Democrats may vote for would be the Education Budget which includes K-12 spending increases. But the legislative leaders are likely to have a hard time getting any further support across the aisle for the rest of the budget, Mussi said.