Arizona GOP Legislators Use 2022 Budget for This Year To Ease Taxpayer Burden

Arizona GOP Legislators Use 2022 Budget for This Year To Ease Taxpayer Burden

By Corinne Murdock |

On Monday, the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee approved reusing last year’s budget for the coming year, citing concerns over the current poor state of the economy. 

The budget bill, SB1523, passed along partisan lines, 6-4. The Republican majority of the committee insisted that this budget structure was a fiscally wise move, while the Democratic minority claimed that Republicans were merely unwilling to negotiate with them. 

Gov. Katie Hobbs criticized the budget as a “do-nothing” plan.

Republican legislators wondered whether Hobbs would close government-funded entities to obtain her ideal budget.

“[W]ill she veto the budget and threaten the possibility of closing our schools, law enforcement agencies, and health care services?” asked House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci (R-LD30). 

During Monday’s Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, Democrats alleged that Republicans weren’t concerned about the economy. Rather, they said that their budget reflected a refusal to work with either them or Hobbs. 

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Lela Alston (D-LD05) called the budget a “phony bill,” a “power grab,” and a “Ducey budget” that avoided negotiations with Hobbs and Democrats. State Sen. Priya Sundareshan (D-LD18) claimed it was disrespectful to not give them more notice. The legislators received the bill on Monday evening. Sundareshan implied that last year’s Democratic legislators were only satisfied with the budget because they had several different Democrats in the legislature and didn’t have a Democratic governor in power.

“I understand that this budget may have been modeled after a bipartisan one last year, but that does not reflect the reality on the ground today. We have different legislators in the legislature today, we have a different governor, we have different circumstances on the ground,” said Sundareshan. 

State Sen. John Kavanagh (R-LD03), the committee chairman, countered Democrats’ claims that the budget was sprung upon them suddenly Monday evening. Kavanagh said that they had plenty of notice of budget proceedings over the past month. 

“It wouldn’t be a phony budget to the state employees, to those who rely on state monies come July when government shuts down. To them, this wouldn’t have been a phony budget, this would’ve been a lifesaver budget, including schools and teachers,” said Kavanagh.


State Sen. Anthony Kern (R-LD27) said that the budget was “skinny” and “responsible” since the state and nation are living in times of economic uncertainty. State Sen. Jake Hoffman (R-LD15) concurred. He questioned why Hobbs would veto the budget when she knew how a Republican-led legislature would structure the budgets in response to their constituents.

“We are going into times of economic uncertainty, and this budget is going to keep the lights on,” said Hoffman. 

Senate Democrats criticized the budget for being too similar to last year’s version. However, last year the caucus praised the budget as a “historic and rare opportunity” for schools.

In a press release following the Senate Appropriations Committee advancing their version of the budget, House Minority Leader Andrés Cano (D-LD20) claimed that Republicans were “afraid” of Hobbs, and needed to “grow up.” Similarly, Senate Minority Leader Raquel Terán (D-LD26) said that Republicans needed to “act their age” to improve the budget.

Following the Senate advancing its version of the budget, House Republicans introduced their version on Tuesday. State Rep. David Livingston (R-LD28) expressed confidence that all 13 of his introduced budget bills would pass during Wednesday’s House Appropriations Committee meeting, which he chairs.

In a press release, Livingston called Hobbs’ budget plan an “irresponsible,” “left-wing” wish list

“In this time of political division and economic uncertainty, that won’t work for Arizonans, and it won’t pass at the legislature,” said Livingston. 

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) report of the budget forecasted $17.6 billion in ongoing revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, nearly $15 billion in ongoing expenditures, and nearly $858,000 in one-time expenditures.

The budget includes $183 million in one-time funding for building renewal grants, $78 million from the state general fund for a one-time deposit in the new schools facility fund, and $200 million from the state general fund for the superintendent.

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

House Democrats Attempted To Kill Bill Addressing Teacher Shortage

House Democrats Attempted To Kill Bill Addressing Teacher Shortage

By Corinne Murdock |

On Tuesday, House Democrats attempted to kill a Republican-introduced bill to address the teacher shortage.

The bill, HB2428, would allow private universities and colleges to participate in and receive funding from the Arizona Teachers Academy (ATA). Reimbursements for academy scholarships would be capped at the average in-state tuition and fees determined by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR): currently, about $7,100. The four Democratic members of the House Education Committee opposed the bill.

The bill sponsor, State Rep. Matt Gress (R-LD04), said that there are thousands of students seeking an educational degree currently, noting approximately 3,000 qualified students at Grand Canyon University alone. Gress cited data that approximately 80 percent of these types of students go on to teach in public schools, but not necessarily in Arizona. Gress argued that they should be pulled into Arizona ones.

“It represents a state commitment to addressing our teacher workforce shortage,” said Gress.

ATA helps pay for tuition and fees for state university or community college students, with the contingency that these students commit to one year of teaching in an Arizona public school. 


Over 3,300 individuals were enrolled in the ATA last year, the largest class since its creation in 2017 under former Gov. Doug Ducey. Enrollment for the past five years totaled nearly 9,300. Scholarships totaled $22.7 million, averaging $7,100 each. Gress’ proposed expansion of the ATA to private institutions may cost an additional $17 million. The ATA funds student-teachers across 16 different graduate and undergraduate programs.

The teacher shortage may soon worsen: over 20,000 teachers qualified for retirement last year, according to the Arizona State Retirement System.

Committee Democrats admitted that the state’s ongoing teacher shortage is urgent. However, they disagreed that public dollars should go into private institutions.

State Rep. Judy Schwiebert (D-LD02) said the state should prioritize public institution students over private ones. She expressed concern that expanding ATA eligibility would disrupt the current waitlist of public university students.

“I feel like our priority needs to be with our public schools that need to be held accountable, and if they’re going to be accountable we need to make sure that we’re providing the funding for them to be able to train as many teachers as they have applications for, and right now they don’t,” said Schwiebert. “We need to make it a priority to further invest in our institutions before we send any money, or if we even should send any money to a private institution that doesn’t require any accountability from the state.”

State Rep. Nancy Gutierrez (D-LD18) concurred, arguing that it wasn’t appropriate to use public funds for private institutions. Gutierrez said the teacher shortage wasn’t due to a lack of accessibility to programs like ATA, it was teachers enduring purportedly low pay and disrespect.

State Rep. Laura Terech (D-LD04) said she didn’t believe this bill was a long-term solution for the shortage.

“I have a fundamental problem with sending public money to private institutions,” said Terech.

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

New Senate Committee on Director Nominations Formed To Ensure Protocols Followed

New Senate Committee on Director Nominations Formed To Ensure Protocols Followed

By Daniel Stefanski |

Arizona hasn’t had to deal with a divided government for quite some time with the Governor’s Office and both chambers of the Legislature being controlled by Republicans for over a decade. At the beginning of 2023, however, a unified government morphed into a divided government, and tensions between the two branches of are beginning to ratchet up as the 56th Legislature enters its second month of the year.

This week, Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen announced the formation of a new Senate Committee on Director Nominations, which is “tasked with gathering information and evaluating qualifications on the governor’s executive appointments in order to recommend a course of action for the Senate to take on each individual.” President Petersen appointed five Senators to serve on this committee – three Republicans and two Democrats. Senator Jake Hoffman will serve as the chair, and Senator Sine Kerr as the vice-chair. Senators T.J. Shope, Christine Marsh, and Eva Burch complete the appointments to the committee.

The creation of this committee follows Petersen’s statement on January 23, threatening to take action against Governor Hobbs if her office did not send director nominations to the Arizona Senate, according to state law. Petersen tweeted, “The law says the governor will promptly send her nominations to the Senate. We have not received one director nomination that she has announced. It would be unfortunate if we have to sue the governor to comply with the law.” When another Twitter user called out the East Valley lawmaker on why he decided to use this public platform to issue his challenge, Petersen revealed that he “called her office five days ago.”

According to the Senate Republican release announcing the Committee on Director Nominations, Governor Hobbs “has failed to submit the required documentation to the Senate on 23 out of 25 individuals who have so far been appointed (as directors).”

Not surprisingly, the new committee has been met with praise on the Republican side and condemnation on the Democrat side. Committee Chairman Hoffman said, “Hobbs’ apparent refusal to follow the law…is unacceptable and demonstrates her willingness to play political games with the lives and safety of Arizona citizens.” Committee Vice Chair (and Senate Majority Whip) Kerr stated, “…we don’t know yet if these individuals are even qualified to hold these positions.” Committee Member and Senate President Pro Tempore Shope called out the governor for her repeated claims of bipartisan and transparent leadership, saying, “for a governor who has made numerous comments on wanting bipartisanship at the Capitol, the way to achieve that goal is not ignore statutory duties or intentionally delay statutory checks and balances.” The Arizona Freedom Caucus tweeted, “The Senate must take its constitutional duty to act as a check & balance on Katie Hobbs’ executive branch seriously.”

On the Democrat side, Senator Marsh, in voting no on the creation of this committee on the Senate floor, said that she wished that legislators would “instead be focusing on the truly time-sensitive issue that we have in front of us, which is passing the AEL (Aggregate Expenditure Limit).” Senator Priya Sundareshan tweeted that the new committee was “another power grab on the Senate floor.” And the Arizona Senate Democrats stated that “the Arizona Senate Republicans continue to take cheap shots at Governor Hobbs and the people of Arizona.”

Now, with the committee established, the Arizona Senate awaits the lawful transmission of the documentation for the directors who have already been appointed to the Hobbs’ administration.

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

Early Ballot ID Requirement Passes Senate Elections Committee

Early Ballot ID Requirement Passes Senate Elections Committee

By Corinne Murdock |

On Monday, the Senate Elections Committee passed a bill requiring voter ID for those turning in early ballots on Election Day. The committee passed the bill, SB1135, along partisan lines: 5-3.

SB1135 also requires early ballots not delivered or mailed to the county recorder or other elections officers to be exchanged by the voter for a regular ballot at a polling place or voting center by 7 pm on Election Day. Electors who exchange their early ballot for a regular ballot must spoil their early ballot and receive a regular ballot from an election official.

An earlier version of the bill would’ve required automatic removal of voters from the Active Early Voter List (AEVL) if they bring their early ballot to a polling place to vote in person. However the bill sponsor, State Sen. John Kavanagh (R-LD03), removed this provision out of the bill via an adopted amendment.

State Sen. Juan Mendez (D-LD08) insisted that the requirement to spoil early ballots would disenfranchise voters, raising the hypothetical of a voter who forgets their ID and may not get to vote because of it. Kavanagh countered that those voters needed to prove that the early ballot legally belongs to them.

“How do I know you’re you if you don’t have ID? How do I know you didn’t find it on the street or you stole it from a friend’s house?” asked Kavanagh.

Mendez responded that signature verification would prevent that method of voter fraud. Kavanagh disagreed, arguing that signature verification is unreliable. Kavanagh said that signatures can be copied from government websites.

Kavanagh further argued that spoiling early ballots brought in on Election Day would reduce the current issue of weeks-long counting delays, since those ballots would be exchanged for regular ones tabulated on site. 

“Don’t have it go into a box and then two to three days later we still don’t know who won,” said Kavanagh.

Kavanagh noted that this spoliation process could be avoided with the passage of another bill, SB1105, which allows voters who bring early ballots in on Election Day to have their vote tabulated immediately if they bring valid ID. The committee approved that bill as well.

State Sen. Priya Sundareshan (D-LD18) argued that the bill makes voting more difficult and time-consuming. Kavanagh disputed the idea that early ballots are meant to be dropped off in person, saying that the current flexibility in law causes confusion and disorganization. 

Jen Marson with the Arizona Association of Counties (AACo) warned that SB1105’s language might undermine its intended purpose. Kavanagh promised to meet with the Association.

Among those who issued public comments on the bill was Ricardo Serna, a self-identified independent voter and poll worker. Serna claimed that the bill would disenfranchise college students because they simply didn’t have the time to cast their ballot as intended. Kavanagh said he didn’t believe that was true.

“I don’t know why you would limit choices for something so important as our elections,” said Serna.

Though Serna described himself as an “independent voter” and poll worker, he’s the president of Maricopa County Young Democrats. Serna was also the district field director for Progressive Turnout Project.

Majority Leader Sonny Borelli (R-LD30) pointed out that the state’s college campuses have early voting sites. Serna said that wasn’t enough.

The committee’s three Democrats were in opposition to the bill, claiming that it wasn’t inclusive enough and prioritized efficiency over accessibility. Sundareshan argued that early mail-in voting was essential to be inclusive of minority voters and other, unspecified groups. 

“We need to be providing more options to vote, more accessibility at the ballot,” said Sundareshan.

State Sen. Anna Hernandez (D-LD24) concurred, saying that voting needed to be easier for historically underserved groups. Mendez opined that the bill created more barriers and confusion for election officials.

State Sen. Ken Bennett (R-LD01) expressed concern that Kavanagh’s bill would potentially contend with other bills, such as SB1105. Bennett voted to pass the bill but indicated that he wouldn’t support it on the floor if it ultimately conflicted with legislative language with other bills. Bennett urged Kavanagh to work with other legislators issuing similar legislation to ensure its viability. 

“We have to keep voters’ ability to vote first,” said Bennett. “But I think we can have accuracy and speed up the process at the same time.” 

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

Kavanagh Hand Count Bill Appears To Have Support From Stephen Richer

Kavanagh Hand Count Bill Appears To Have Support From Stephen Richer

By Daniel Stefanski |

Election integrity measures haven’t been a source of unity for all Arizona Republicans over the past two years, but one bill just introduced by a state senator may have brought the party somewhat closer together on one aspect of reform.

The one-page bill, SB 1471, was recently introduced by Senator John Kavanagh, dealing with ballot tabulation and hand count comparison. According to the legislation, which would only apply to Arizona counties with a population of more than two million persons, “the officer in charge of elections in (these counties) shall randomly select four election precincts in the county from the ballot test decks used for logic and accuracy testing for the 2022 general election and shall recount all races using one hundred of those ballots from each precinct.” There would be a hand count of these ballots that would coincide with the machine count.

The legislation requires a county recorder to “compare the tabulator total and the hand count,” and take additional steps to recheck the counts should there be a “difference in the totals that is greater than one-tenth of one percent.” The county recorder would then “estimate how many persons working sixteen hours a day would be required to hand county the entire number of ballots cast in the November 2022 election.” After the conclusion of this process, the county recorder would transmit the report to the governor, president of the Arizona Senate, and the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer released a statement this week that appeared to be in support of the legislation, saying, “Smart legislation is key to improving Arizona’s elections and voters’ trust. …This legislation will build confidence in our election system by showing that machine tabulation is highly accurate, free of bias and fast. Thanks to Senator Kavanagh for this good idea.”

It remains to be seen if Republicans at the Legislature will be appreciative of Recorder Richer’s statement on SB 1471. Maricopa County officials and members of the Arizona Legislature have not always seen eye-to-eye over election integrity since the 2020 presidential contest, and there are often competing interests or motivations even in a perceived daylight of agreement between two opposing factions. Some legislative Republicans may see this bill as an opportunity to validate hand counts, while other Republicans may view this legislation as an endorsement of machine counting.

This bill has not been assigned to a committee, nor does it have any cosponsors at the time of publication.

Should this legislation pass the Arizona Senate and House, it remains to be seen whether it would be signed into law by Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs, who has promised to use her veto stamp on bills she believes are partisan in nature.

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

Election Integrity Bill Requiring Increased Party Participation Passes Out of Committee

Election Integrity Bill Requiring Increased Party Participation Passes Out of Committee

By Daniel Stefanski |

One of the Arizona Legislature’s election integrity measures cleared its first hurdle this week, putting it one step closer to a possible showdown with Governor Katie Hobbs’ office.

The bill, HB2305, which was sponsored by Representative Cory McGarr, deals with ballots, signature verification, and observers. It cleared the Arizona House Municipal Oversight & Elections Committee on Wednesday, February 1, with a party-line 6-4 vote. Representatives Harris, Heap, Jones, Smith, Kolodin, and Parker voted to pass the legislation out of the Republican-controlled committee.

According to the summary from the Arizona Legislature, HB2305 “requires the County Recorder and county officer in charge of elections to allow party representatives to observe each stage of the signature verification process for early ballots.” This appears to already be existing law in ARS 16-621 (“All proceedings at the counting center…shall be conducted in accordance with the approved instructions and procedures manual issued pursuant to section 16-452 under the observation of representatives of each political party and the public.”) as one member of the Arizona House pointed out to AZ Free News, but some legislators desire to make the law crystal clear to help improve the transparency and integrity of the election process and to ensure that all Arizona counties are following the law when it comes to signature verification.

The Arizona signature verification process has received a tremendous amount of scrutiny since the 2020 presidential election – especially due to the sheer number of early ballots returned prior to and on Election Day each cycle. Arizona county officials spend weeks and countless hours tabulating ballots returned through the mail or dropped off at designated sites up until 7pm on Election Night. Many of the late arrivals are counted in the days following Election Day, and signatures are supposed to be verified before any vote is officially tallied.

Signature verification was a large focus of former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s investigation into the Maricopa County 2020 General Election and his subsequent interim report to former Senate President Karen Fann on April 6, 2022. The interim report found that “on November 4, 2020, the Maricopa County Recorder verified 206,648 early ballot affidavit signatures, which resulted in an average of 4.6 seconds per signature.” Brnovich’s report stated that “there are simply too many early ballots that must be verified in too limited a period of time, thus leaving the system vulnerable to error, fraud and oversight.”

Brnovich’s reported concluded that “because signature verification is the most important current check on early ballots, there must be opportunities for parties’ election observers to meaningfully observe the signature verification process in real time and to raise objections if officials are not doing their jobs to actually and accurately verify signatures.” He then called on the Arizona Legislature to act “to ensure transparency on this check.” Representative McGarr’s legislation may be an answer to that suggestion. 

At last count of the legislation’s page on the Arizona Legislature’s website, there were 153 entries in support of HB2305 and only 25 against. The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office took a neutral position.

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