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Toma, Petersen Try Again To Reach Accord With Hobbs

March 2, 2023

By Daniel Stefanski |

Legislative Republicans continue to search for avenues to reach an accord with the Governor’s Office on the new fiscal year budget, and on Tuesday, the leaders of the House and Senate took a new approach to bring Arizona’s chief executive to the negotiating table.

House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen sent a joint letter to Governor Hobbs, requesting a meeting with the Ninth Floor over the stalled budget negotiations. After receiving the Governor’s budget proposal in January, both the House and Senate passed a budget that was then vetoed by Hobbs.

Toma and Petersen’s letter references the vetoed budget and the Governor’s actions to bring Arizona dangerously close to a shutdown: “The Legislative Budget you vetoed on February 16th represented shared, ongoing funding priorities. That budget would have prevented a government shutdown, while leaving the available one-time funds untouched for executive and legislative negotiation of priorities. Our budget was the responsible approach to governing in a time of economic uncertainty.”

The legislative generals struck a balanced and reasonable approach in their letter to Governor Hobbs, highlighting an alleged unwillingness to negotiate by her office: “In our first and only meeting to discuss the budget, your office stated it was unwilling to receive feedback or take questions. Obviously, we need some level of agreement to pass a budget. We believe we can achieve most of our priorities and include yours that are reasonable. For example, we have several members who support additional funding for School Facilities Building renewal, the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), and transportation projects.”

Tuesday’s letter is the latest salvo in a continuing saga between the two sides on the budget negotiations. Both parties remain far apart on key details needed to forge an agreement before the June 30th deadline.

Daniel Scarpinato, one of former Governor Doug Ducey’s Chiefs of Staff, responded to the allegations of Hobbs’ refusal to negotiate with Republican legislators: “I cannot imagine inviting legislators up to the 9th floor and refusing to take questions. We always took questions from Republicans, Democrats and the media. They didn’t always like the answers – but I just can’t imagine saying something like this to elected leaders.”

In a press conference shortly after the receipt of the letter, Governor Hobbs was asked about the request for enhanced negotiations and what her response would be to President Petersen and Speaker Toma. The governor inferred that her office had, in fact, reached out to legislative leadership after her veto of the budget, saying that she saw the letter “as a response to (her office) reaching out,” and that she was “encouraged that we can move forward on a process of negotiating a budget that we can all agree on.”

Hobbs’ characterization of her office reaching out to Republicans in the state legislature appears to correspond with a line in Petersen and Toma’s letter that outlines “a request from (Hobbs’) office to discuss priorities and identify differences to avoid a government shutdown.” However, as the letter highlights, this request came one day after Hobbs “created and committed funding to her ‘Flip the Leg Fund,’” which took place on the heels of unanswered legislative questions about her controversial Inaugural Fund. This announcement from Hobbs’ political operation left Republicans in no mood to work with a governor who is simultaneously financing election challenges to vulnerable legislators at the state capitol.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

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