The Daily Agenda: DIY budgeting at the Capitol
Just give them cash ... Corrupt billionaires hate this one weird phrase ... And only a Nogalian would know that.
It’s officially budget season at the Capitol after the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s March Monthly Fiscal Highlights dropped this week, the traditional starting gun for budget negotiations.
Lawmakers have less than a month left before April 18, the 100th day of the legislative session, after which they are officially late, per legislative rules1. They’ve got a little more than three months until July 1, when the government will shut down without a budget. But sooner is better.
There’s some hope that the budget may come sooner, and that the process could be better.
After sending Gov. Katie Hobbs a dead-on-arrival “skinny” budget that included only the legally required new spending, Republican lawmakers went back to the drawing board. The two sides are finally beginning meetings — House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen sat down with Hobbs earlier this week and are going back for more negotiations tomorrow.
And Republicans, at least, have a new plan: Give everyone money.
That is, give each lawmaker and the Governor’s Office a slice of the $1.8 billion in new one-time spending that both sides agree is on the table and let them decide how to spend it, either as individual lawmakers on their own pet projects or by pooling their allotments together in small groups for bigger-ticket items.
This novel approach could, potentially, break the stalemate that Republican lawmakers and Hobbs have been stuck in since Hobbs first proposed her budget that included nonstarters for Republicans, like eliminating universal school vouchers, and they responded with their own nonstarter, the skinny budget.
“The Republicans already have our budget. We left space for the Democrats and the governor. … We are prepared to give the Democrats and the governor a substantial chunk of the additional one-time money,” Republican Sen. John Kavanagh, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told us. “And hopefully we can have a budget by next week if things work out the right way.”
Next week is probably an optimistic assessment. But the fact that the two sides are finally sitting down together gives a reason for some optimism. And the new tactic of allowing each lawmaker to earmark their own spending may actually provide the breakthrough needed to get the budget in motion, if not next week.
Of course, handing out big chunks of money to 90 lawmakers and asking them to figure out the budget themselves may not work. And the money offered is one-time money, meaning any priorities from lawmakers can’t be for ongoing spending like teacher pay or tax cuts. Then there’s also the question of what kinds of priorities the money can be used for: If Democrats want to spend their chunk of cash on, say, Planned Parenthood, that probably won’t fly.
Finally, the concept appears slapped together. Republican lawmakers were only told recently that they had to send their list of priorities to legislative leaders immediately, which didn’t allow much time for coalition-building on big-ticket items.
We hear Republicans in the House were offered $20 million each to set their own priorities, while Republican senators each got $30 million, for a total of a little more than $1 billion. If those figures are correct, that would leave roughly $700 million for both legislative Democrats and the Governor’s Office to use on their priorities, collectively, or about 38% of the money.
It’s still unclear if Democrats are even on board with the plan. House Minority Leader Andrés Cano and Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein didn’t answer our calls or texts about it yesterday.
Democrats may not be in a rush when it comes to the budget. As the Arizona Capitol Times’ Camryn Sanchez writes, Republicans are pushing to finish the budget this month, citing a federal deadline for lawmakers to give their permission for the state to spend federal dollars or lose out on about $3 billion for AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid system. The Governor’s Office, in turn, said the solution doesn’t need to come from the budget, as lawmakers can address the Medicaid problem in a bill.
“(I)t sounds like they want to refuse to pass that bill in order to create false urgency around the budget,” spokeswoman Josselyn Berry told Sanchez.
While the urgency around the budget may be false now, it won’t stay that way for long.
It’s always election season somewhere: As Tempe residents prepare to fill out ballots for a May special election on three questions about whether to create a new entertainment district to woo the Arizona Coyotes hockey team there, activists staged “an at-times theatrical news conference” to oppose the measures, Cronkite News’ Piper Hansen reports (bonus points to Hansen for working in an explanation of GPLETs). Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo is mad that the group opposing the deal, Tempe 1st, keeps calling him a “corrupt billionaire” and sent them a cease and desist letter accusing the group of maligning “a prominent Hispanic business leader,” Fox 10 notes.
Crust stops dust: Arizona State University researchers are working to restore the desert’s “biological crust,” the thin layer of living soil that protects against wind erosion, the Republic’s Clara Migoya writes. They hope to prevent deadly dust storms and slow the spread of wind-transmitted fungal infections like Valley fever, since simply wetting down the dirt isn’t a great option in the desert. The research has never been successfully tried on a large scale, she writes, but would be helpful, especially in western Pinal County, where fields are increasingly fallow and the dust situation is so bad that the Environmental Protection Agency is about to start enforcing new, expensive dust control requirements.
It’s all the fungus in the soil: Kari Lake’s hallucinatory claims that she is actually governor fit right in with the history of Arizona, which got its name from a flash-in-the-pan silver rush and was born out of real estate scams, land hustles and a “make-believe approach toward hydrology” to become the land of reinvention, second chances and fresh starts, author Tom Zoellner writes in the Los Angeles Times. Zoellner, a former Republic reporter, is doing a reading of his new book, “Rim to River: Looking into the Heart of Arizona,” at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix on March 23 at 6pm.
They’re the good guys!: Grand Canyon University, which has taken a beating in the press at at the Phoenix City Council for buying up a mobile home park near the campus and evicting people, got its press flack to write an opinion piece in the Republic saying they’re really not the villain here as they’re offering help transitioning people out of the park, which is more than most property owners do.
On a Sunday afternoon?: Prescott police arrested Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Celé Hancock for extreme DUI, the Associated Press reports. She had a blood alcohol content of .219 and was first elected to the bench in 2010.
It’s a low-interest loan for cops: Jerry Johnson, who came to Arizona in 2020 with $40,000 to buy a third semi-truck for his business and had the money seized by police who accused him of running a criminal enterprise, finally got his money back last week, the Republic’s Perry Vandell writes. The Court of Appeals threw out a lower court ruling and openly criticized the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for seizing the cash last year. Republican lawmakers reformed the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws in 2017 and again in 2021 (including outlawing the kind of waiver Johnson signed) to try to stop cops from stealing property from innocent people. He hasn’t received attorneys’ fees and only accrued minor interest on the cash law enforcement kept for nearly three years.
Rest in peace: To commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the Iraq War, the Washington Post spoke to the children of American soldiers who died, including Brandon Whiterock, the son of Lori Piestewa, a Hopi tribal member from Arizona who was killed in the early days of the war and whose name now adorns a Phoenix mountaintop.
“The Hopi people strive for harmony, Whiterock explains, adding that, because Piestewa’s final moments were not a violent struggle for survival, there is some comfort, however small, knowing that she died trying to help her friends escape,” the Post’s Alex Horton writes.
Trees > power plants: Nearly 30 years after residents began planting trees to try to mitigate the heat, Tucson’s Dunbar Spring neighborhood has become an urban forest of edible food, the Guardian’s Samuel Gilbert writes, adding that the neighborhood may become a model for other hot, dry areas. Elsewhere in the Guardian, Nina Lakhani writes about Randolf, a historically Black community in central Arizona, as residents continue their ongoing battle against SRP as it attempts to double the size of its power plant there, which would bring more pollution and health problems. Regulators rejected SRP’s plan last year, but now it’s giving residents an even harder sell with promises like a new community theater and air quality testing, a tactic that advocates say amounts to “systemic racism.”
Thanks, IRC: The Arizona Daily Star’s Tim Steller details Republican Sen. Justine Wadsack’s wild ride through the Legislature so far, noting that her penchant for verbal battles and slinging conspiracies have earned her some friends, though former Republican Sen. Vince Leach, who she defeated, isn’t among them. He’s gearing up to challenge her in 2024. There’s also a recall campaign organizing against her. But the best part of the story is the email she sent a constituent asking him to not contact her. (She has also asked Steller not to call her.)
Apps aren’t always the answer: U.S. Customs and Border Protection is forcing asylum seekers outside the United States to use a glitchy app that many of them don’t understand in order to make an appointment at a port of entry and apply for asylum, the Arizona Luminaria’s John Washington reports. Meanwhile, Gov. Katie Hobbs held a press conference with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at the Mariposa Port of Entry, where he praised the app, called CBP One.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial