Under Arizona’s constitution, any increase in the salary of state lawmakers must be approved by voters. In the past 50 years, legislators and the AZ Commission on Salaries have sent a pay raise to the ballot 18 times. All but two of them have been shot down by the voters. The most recent referral, in 2014, to raise legislative salaries to $35,000 was rejected 68%-32%.
They’re still trying to scare us. Apparently, some people in our country just don’t like seeing businesses reopen, people unmasked, and a return to normalcy. So, as the threat to COVID largely dwindles, it should come as no surprise that the media is now pushing a new threat: the Delta variant.
It will be interesting to see how state and local governments across the country respond to this so-called “latest threat.” As you’ll recall, it didn’t go so well the first time around with most seizing the opportunity to abuse emergency powers, even here in Arizona. And although Arizona’s COVID response puts it ahead of most other states in the country, there’s still work to be done.
Thankfully, our state lawmakers haven’t ignored the problem. And with various provisions in a series of Budget Reconciliation Bills, they have taken important steps to protect Arizona from more COVID mandates and government overreach.
CORRECTION: The bill still needs to be considered in the Senate. The “win” is confined only to the House vote as of 9:30 a.m., on June 29.
Back in January, on the second day of the legislative session, Sen. Warren Petersen and 27 other legislators introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 1003 in hopes of garnering voter support to rein in a governor’s emergency powers.
It took more than five months, but the effort by Petersen (R-LD23) and the co-sponsors of SCR1003 paid off last week. The result – voters will decide in November 2022 whether to approve a constitutional amendment that ensures the legislature has a say after a governor issues a state of emergency.
A governor currently has power to declare a state of emergency for conditions of “disaster or extreme peril to the safety of persons or property within the state caused by air pollution, fire, flood, epidemic, riot, earthquake or other causes that are likely to be beyond the control of any single county or municipality.” Such a declaration is only terminated by proclamation of the governor or a concurrent resolution of the legislature.
The legislature, however, might not be in session when a state of emergency is issued.
SCR1003 would constitutionally require a governor to call the legislature into special session within 10 days of proclaiming a state of emergency. And once assembled, the legislature could determine whether to enact laws or issue legislative orders to terminate or modify the governor’s emergency powers as well as the state of emergency.
Those legislative orders would have the same authority as a governor’s executive orders, according to a provision of SCR1003. Another provision addresses a concern raised during the COVID-19 lockdowns – how to conduct legislative business if lawmakers cannot make it to the floor of their chambers.
Remote voting is currently allowed but the head count conducted for determining a quorum is based on those legislators present in the building. But if SCR1003 is approved by voters, quorums could be counted based on remote-attendance by a lawmaker under certain situations.
That would ensure the legislature can do its constitutionally-mandated duties even if several members are not in the building.
One of the most impassioned SCR1003 floor speeches came from Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-LD12) who advocated during voting on June 25 not only in support of the concurrent resolution but also to end of the COVID-19 public health emergency Gov. Doug Ducey declared more than 15 months ago.
According to Hoffman, Arizona’s state of emergency statutes permit “the most draconian measures out of all the states except for one. That is abhorrent. That is terrible.” He added that current laws allows emergency powers which are “unchecked and out of control.”
SCR1003, Hoffman said, “is measured, it is reasonable, it does not overreach, and it does not eliminate the ability for emergency orders and emergency declaration.”
He also called on Ducey to put on end to Arizona’s COVID-19 public health emergency. “It is time for this emergency order to end, period, stop all. End of story, turn it off,” Hoffman said.
But legislators did more last week that just ensure SCR1003 gets before voters next year.
The House and Senate also passed SB1819 which includes a provision that ends a governor’s public health state of emergency after 120 days unless extended in whole or in part by concurrent resolution of the legislature. That provision of the bill will not apply to a state of emergency issued before Jan. 1, 2023.
Petersen, the bill’s prime sponsor, told AZ Free News both SCR1003 and SB1819 are important given Arizona’s rating as second worst in the nation for the balance of powers between the executive and the legislative branches when it comes to emergency orders.
“SCR1003 and SB1819 are needed to bring Arizona into balance like the rest of the nation,” Petersen explained. “The measure that goes to the voters is important because it brings the legislature into session to consider any emergency orders issued. Meanwhile, SB1819 that we passed is important because it terminates those orders after four months.”
The two measures work hand in hand, Petersen noted.
“One makes sure the legislature has a voice in emergency orders from the start. The second makes sure that they don’t last forever,” he said.
For the last three weeks the Arizona Legislature has spent more time not working on the state budget slated to start July 1 than they have spent working on it. But optimism is rising -particularly within the Republican caucus- that the impasse may be over.
Gov. Doug Ducey warned lawmakers at the end of May that he did not want to see any legislation hit his desk unless it was the 11 bills contained with the budget packet. He even vetoed 22 bills, all of which had Republican supports, to show he was serious.
On Monday, a number of people involved in the budget process signaled that compromises were being worked out to ensure 31 House and 16 Senate “aye” votes will be put forth for all 11 bills, or at least a significant number to get things moving forward.
According to Sen. Vince Leach, the proposed budget compromise provides money for education, public safety, road infrastructure, debt reduction, and “significant tax relief.” The first four of those items have been the key areas of disagreement, while the latter involves both tax cuts and a transition to a flat rate income tax.
Ducey also released a letter of support for a revised budget package which would now provide cities and towns with an 18 percent share of the state’s Urban Revenue Sharing Fund rather than 15 percent. The increased percentage is intended to cover $225 million in revenue municipalities were estimated to lose if Ducey’s proposed flat rate income tax is approved by lawmakers.
The transition to a flat tax would take place over a few years, and would limit the top rate at 4.5 percent, although Arizonans making less than $250,000 would have a rate of 2.5 percent.
Another compromise expected to be introduced would cap the amount of tax cuts next year at $1.3 billion unless certain revenue thresholds are hit. In that case, the tax cuts could go as high was $1.8 billion.
The Arizona Education Association has come out against the tax cuts and the flat tax. However, the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona threw its support behind Ducey’s efforts to reach a compromise on the budget package. According to a statement released Monday by HBACA, the budget “enhances Arizona’s economic environment, provides more resources to keep Arizona growing, and promotes housing affordability.”
The mayors who signed the letter to Ducey are from Avondale, Buckeye, Camp Verde, Chandler, El Mirage, Gila Bend, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Lake Havasu City, Kingman, Marana, Mesa, Payson, Peoria, Prescott, Sahuarita, Surprise, Winkenburg, Youngstown, and Yuma.
After a mini-Wildfire 101 course from the Arizona State Forester, 18 of the 19 members of legislature’s Joint Committee on Natural Resources, Energy, and Water voted in favor of Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed $100 million fire suppression and mitigation legislation.
Next up for the bill during this Special Session is a quick trip through two Rules Committees on Thursday morning. That should be followed by the House and Senate convening to consider amendments to the two identical bills, SB1001 and HB2001, which are tracking in both chambers.
Wednesday’s hours-long meeting featured a questions and answers session with David Tenney, director of Arizona’s Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) on the same day that two ongoing destructive wildfires near Globe -the Telegraph and the Mescal- merged with nearly 150,000 acres burned.
Ducey called the Special Session for the sole purpose to pass a wildfire-related supplemental appropriations bill. The joint committee discussed many of the bill’s targeted investments for wildfire preparedness, response, and recovery, including $76 million toward fire suppression efforts, recovery efforts, mitigation of post-fire floods, economic assistance for those displaced by fires or post-fire floods, and assistance to landowners for emergency repairs from wildfire-related infrastructure damage.
There is also nearly $25 million appropriated in the bill for DFFM and the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to partner on wildfire mitigation efforts such as removing hazardous vegetation and fire fuels. The funds include hiring 720 ADC inmates, working in 72 teams of 10 inmates, to target DFFM-designated areas across the state where mitigation is needed. The goal, said Tenney, is for the crews to cover 20,000 acres annually.
Among the questions Tenney was asked was whether Arizona should own a fleet of firefighting aircraft instead of contracting with providers. Tenney was also asked whether DFFM should purchase a handful of $500,000 firetrucks designed for off-road wilderness access that could be “borrowed” to smaller fire departments.
Tenney also noted that as of this week, Arizona’s 2021 fire season will have impacted nearly 300,000 acres. That puts the state of track for its worst fire season in history due to the combination of excessive heat in all 15 counties as well as drought conditions.
Some committee members tried to get Tenney to discuss whether Arizona’s increasingly larger wildfires are the result of climate change, but the director stuck to the purpose of the legislation -and the Special Session- which is to ensure funding for activities which can have an immediate affect on reducing fires or limiting the damage from fires.
The climate change comments received pushback from Sen. David Gowan (LD-14), who said no one is disputing there is climate change.
“Climate change happens every decade, happens every century, millennium, we have climate change,” he said.
Some Democrats questioned whether the Ducey-backed appropriations bill goes far enough as they preferred legislation addressing more than the immediate critical need. However, committee chairs Rep. Gail Griffin (R-LD14) and Sen. Sine Kerr (R-LD13) guided the discussion back onto the purpose of the legislation – to address the wildfire and post-fire flooding crisis facing Arizona now.
The only no vote was cast by Sen. Juan Mendez (D-LD26).