Arizona Legislature Considering ‘Build Back Broke’ Type of Budget with Earmarks, Funding for School Social Workers, and Government Employee Pay Raises

The Arizona Legislature is rushing to pass a budget before the 2022 session ends in a few days on June 30, but some Republican legislators are balking at agreeing to vote for the 12 budget bills due to the amount of spending: $17.9 billion. State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) tweeted on Monday, “Arizona’s version of @JoeBiden’s Build Back Broke (aka the legislature’s introduced budget) is not fiscally responsible. You cannot spend your way out of a looming recession.”

She objected to budget figures that added an extra half-billion dollars. “I can’t think of anything more fiscally irresponsible than spending recklessly on member pet projects while Arizonans struggle to keep up with crushing inflation,” she tweeted. The Republican Liberty Caucus of Arizona called the budget “bloated and wasteful.”

The Arizona Legislature’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee analyzed the budget plan and found that it will increase spending by 15 percent each of the next few years.

The House Appropriations Committee passed the budget 8-5 on Tuesday, mostly along party lines. State Representative César Chávez (R-Phoenix) was the only Democrat who voted with the Republicans in favor of it (but said he may not support it when it comes up for a floor vote), and State Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) was the only Republican who opposed it. Next, the budget needs to be passed by both the House and the Senate and then signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

If a budget is not passed by June 30 – or some temporary funding enacted – the government will shut down. Negotiations have been delayed due to Republican disagreement about the level of spending for education.

The proposed budget increases spending for K-12 education by about $570 million, for a total of almost $900 million, and funds pay raises for all state government employees. Money for school safety is geared toward counselors and social workers instead of police officers.

A significant portion of the budget is for transportation earmarks – 38 projects totaling $1 billion. Transportation is already funded by user fees like the gas tax and vehicle license assessments. These additional projects, however, have been set up to be funded by general tax revenues, instead of attempting to raise gas taxes or a  less politically acceptable alternative.

Some legislators claim that the budget is only $15.6 billion, but that figure fails to include new transportation projects and border enforcement, items funded from sales taxes rather than the general budget. Capitol Media’s Howard Fischer observed, “Republican legislative leaders are trying to sell what they have billed as a $15.6 billion budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1 but actually contains billions more in spending buried in the details.”

Senate Democrats called Republicans out on the earmarks, declaring in a press release, “Today, Senate Republicans wasted the day infighting over a half-baked budget filled with little more than partisan pork projects.”

The budget also provides $544 million for border security including fencing, adds 90 more state troopers and civilian staff, and allots $1 billion for water issues. There is a $330 million property-tax cut.

State Sen. Paul Boyer (R-Glendale), who has bucked Republicans on many bills, especially election integrity, has said he will not support the budget unless there’s close to $1 billion in new education spending. Democrats have threatened to oppose the budget for not including more funding for education. However, spending on schools in Arizona is at an all-time high, and Arizona’s teacher salaries are the 16th-highest in the country when adjusted for cost of living. Despite its average funding, Arizona ranks No. 1 in the country for academic progress and No. 1 for charter schools.

Democrats warned that the state’s historic tax cuts passed in 2021 would hurt funding for education, but the state is now sitting on an unprecedented $5.3 billion surplus. While the budget includes a large amount of spending, it does leave a significant amount – nearly $1.1 billion – unspent. Ugenti-Rita would like to see some of that surplus go toward a $1 billion tax cut.

The budget is currently stalled due to a disagreement between the House and the Senate. State Sen. David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista) dismissed the Senate Appropriations Committee from deliberations because he said State Rep. Travis Grantham (R-Gilbert) refused to hear four Senate bills that he’d previously agreed to bring up, but Grantham denied it.

Grantham tweeted, “I serve as the Chairman of the House Rules Committee. 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.” One of the bills would provide $150 million in tax breaks for movie production, which Grantham blasted in another tweet.

A “skinny budget” alternative has also been considered, a backup option to keep the government from shutting down in case an agreement can’t be made on a budget. It would merely continue last year’s budget, ignoring the $5.3 billion surplus. That bill made it out of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Background Photo “Arizona Capitol” by Wars. CC BY-SA 3.0.

 

 

 

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