By Terri Jo Neff
UPDATE: At approximately 8:30 p.m., the Senate passed the primary budget bill and worked until 2:30 a.m. to pass all of the 11 budget bills including the tax cut.
Arizona lawmakers are nearly halfway toward approving what Sen. JD Mesnard calls a “once in a lifetime overhaul” of the state’s tax system, but whether the other half get approves this week is still in question.
As of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate had passed 8 of the 11 budget bills on a 16 to 14 margin in a marathon day of amendments, commentary, and votes which was continuing as of press time. Among those eight were appropriation bills for higher education, criminal justice, health, environment, capital outlays, and transportation.
It also included the tax omnibus and revenue bills which are two of the three priorities of the legislature’s majority Republican caucus. And among the legislation were several amendments offered by senators which matched a variety of bills that failed to pass earlier in the session.
One amendment offered to the health budget bill, SB1824, came from Senate President Karen Fann to codify Gov. Doug Ducey’s recent executive order prohibiting COVID-19 vaccinations for community college and university students. It appears, however, that the prohibition is only valid while those vaccinations are offered under “emergency” approval.
That is one of the amended bills the State House is expected to consider on Thursday. None of the budget bills were discussed by the House on Tuesday because 28 of the 29 Democrats in the chamber failed to show up.
The maneuver by the minority party caused a lack of quorum due to the fact four of the 31 Republicans were participating remotely. House rules allow members to vote remotely but for purposes of determining a legal quorum there must be at least 31 representatives present on the floor or in their official House office.
In explaining his support of the budget bills, Mesnard cited several features, including an appropriation toward paying down state pension liabilities. He also noted income taxes will be cut “at a significant amount” which in turn will put Arizona in a positive competitive position.
Throughout Tuesday’s floor session, most of the 14 Democrats in the Senate proposed numerous amendments for how to spend Arizona’s $2.3 billion surplus. Many of the options involved additional funding for lower income residents but were voted down on a 16 to 14 margin.
And some supporters of the Democrats’ amendments suggested the tax cuts contained in the budget bills were disproportionately beneficial to higher income residents.
Sen. Sonny Borrelli said he took many of the Democrats’ comments “as contempt for the rich.”
Earlier in the day the House Committee on Government & Elections gave due pass recommendations to two bills, including SCR1010 which would promote a three-day States’ Convention in September. All seven Republicans on the committee voted for the Sen. Kelly Townsend sponsored bill but indicated they would likely vote against it on the floor.
However, the bill never made it to the full House due to the lack of quorum. The same problem affected Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s attempt via SB1431 to bring changes to the citizen advisory committees utilized by flood control districts.
Ugenti-Rita explained there is currently no restrictions on who sits on those committees, which has allowed city officials to hold seats on what is supposed to be a citizen committee. The bill would also mandate all counties with a population of 1.5 million or more must have a citizens committee; the only county which would be impacted by that provision is Maricopa County, even though Pima, Pinal, and Yuma also utilize citizen committees for their flood districts.