Arizona Legislature $16 Billion Budget for 2023 Causes GOP Infighting

June 21, 2022

By Corinne Murdock |

Less than 24 hours after the Joint Legislative Budget Committee published the proposed budget report late Monday, infighting broke out among Arizona’s House and Senate Republicans.

Tuesday marked lengthy budget discussions in the House Appropriations Committee, but in the Senate discussions were cut off abruptly with an indefinite recess of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Effectively, public budget talks ended before they started in half of the State Capitol.

State Senator David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista) said that the House didn’t honor its agreements to pass some bills; one of those significant ones being the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) continuation. 

“The House has decided that they will not honor the deals we created together and move things forward. I know there’s some media out there, social stuff going on, that they’re trying to pin us and maybe leverage us. But the point is here, they blew the deal,” said Gowan.

Gowan added that he wasn’t willing to call the committee together later on in the day, either. It appears that House legislators reneged on some serious closed-door talks — enough to upset him.

“It would be pretty hard for me to want to come back and help people who wish not to honor deals. In that effort, it’s just not appropriate in what just occurred, so I want that out to the world,” said Gowan. 

However, State Representative Travis Grantham (R-Gilbert) contended that he’d never heard of these deals as the House Rules Committee Chairman. He criticized Gowan’s preferences as “special interest” legislation that was “fat, bloated, […] unconstitutional,” and adverse to Republican interests. Gowan didn’t reply.

“I have never discussed a deal, agreed to a deal or been part of some secretive deal to move certain Senator’s special interest bills that are fat, bloated and in some instances likely unconstitutional,” wrote Grantham. “And further, why would we invite and pay an industry, with taxpayer dollars to come into our great state when they will ban, boycott and take away major meetings, corporations and events because of our Republican majorities and sound policies? #BadIdea”

Those weren’t the only serious breaks from presenting a unified Republican front on the budget. Several individual Republican legislators vocalized dissatisfaction with the budget emphatically on social media and during committee votes.

As the majority, the GOP will have to resolve those opposed within its membership if it hopes to secure the budget’s passage before the new fiscal year begins next Friday, July 1.

Among those opposed to the budget are State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale). She asserted that the budget wasn’t fiscally responsible in the face of a looming recession. Ugenti-Rita scorned provisions of the bill as “pet projects” for fellow members.

That contradicted how State Representative Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) characterized the budget during the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. Cobb said that the proposed budget bills would afford the state with an 8 to 10 percent cushion — enough to “weather the storm” of a pending recession, asserting repeatedly that paying off the pension debt and rollovers would remove troublesome burdens in coming years.

“Are we going to flatline tomorrow or July 1? Absolutely not, but we’ve projected it to be fiscally conservative,” said Cobb. “I think if we’re going into a recession, we’re paying off a lot of debt that could be hanging over our heads during a recession.”

State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) also opposed the budget. He declared that the budget would only worsen an impending sustained recession and current, serious economic destruction. Hoffman criticized the raises to state employees and judges of up to 15 percent. Although Hoffman was the only Republican committee member to vote against the bill, the legislator said that the budget doesn’t reflect the majority’s platform.

“Everything in [our constituents’] lives are going up, and they’re not getting raises right now. If they are, they’re under the inflation rate,” said Hoffman.

Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a free market policy and advocacy organization, asserted that extraneous funding for agendas contrary to the interests of Arizonans were sprinkled into the budget. In a statement to AZ Free News, President Scot Mussi declared that the budget largely fulfilled Democrats’ wishlist. 

“The proposed budget deal includes hundreds of millions in new spending, subsidies for Hollywood liberals to make movies, tax hikes for a Green New Deal transit plan in Maricopa County and special interest pork to buy Democrat votes,” said Mussi. “We should be working toward a budget that has full Republican support, not a Build Back Broke budget supported by Democrats.”

By and large, Democrats focused their comments Tuesday on lamenting the budget’s K-12 spending. Some accused the budget’s design as a “shell game.” Several noted that they didn’t like the idea of funding more border security. 

One of the most vocal opponents of the budget, State Representative Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley), called the ongoing revenue calculations “irresponsible” during committee. Butler also said that she and a majority of Arizona voters wanted $1 billion for K-12 education. Butler accused the budget of shell games related to taxation that made education funding more vulnerable. 

Despite the ongoing economic turmoil and near-universal expectation of a recession, Butler asserted that the economy was “thriving.” Butler also took issue with the fact that she was still getting briefings by midnight and memos from staff at one am early Tuesday, arguing that no legislators had time to figure out what’s all in the budget.

Present at the State Capitol were educator activists with the Arizona Education Association (AEA) rallying for more teacher pay using the $5.3 billion surplus.

Those for the budget praised it for getting more things right to address the state’s current needs. One Democrat, State Representative Cesár Chávez (D-Maryvale) signaled support for the budget, pointing out during committee that the legislature had a little over a week before its deadline for the budget hits. He concurred with his Democratic peers that K-12 education needed a “true, historic investment,” but that he had a responsibility to make the budget work ahead of the deadline. 

State Representative Michelle Udall (R-Mesa) offered a list of positives within the budget solving statewide problems: over $1 billion to solve water supply problems; over $1.6 billion overall increase in K12 spending, which meted out to $750 per pupil or a $23,000 increase per classroom; over $1 billion in debt payoff in unfunded liabilities and pensions; over $1 billion increase in public safety (police, fires, courts); and over $500 million to increase health care like in diabetes management training and postpartum care.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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