The Daily Agenda: We've got a bipartisan budget
Told you so ... It's almost done, but don't sleep yet ... And some people never learn.
After 165 days of what one lawmaker called the most toxic session in her 10 years at the Capitol, lawmakers passed a bipartisan budget late last night.1
The historic moment was born out of necessity from bitter infighting within the Republican Party, but that didn’t dampen the excitement at the state Capitol as the vast majority of legislative Democrats and Republicans joined forces to pass the largest spending plan the state has ever seen amid record-breaking surpluses.
The freak occurrence of a truly bipartisan compromise budget2 was made possible by a handful of fiscal hawks in the GOP. In recent weeks, it became increasingly clear that no amount of increased spending was going to fly with lawmakers like Republican Rep. Jake Hoffman, who voted against a previous “skinny” budget because it wasn’t skinny enough, leaving Republican leaders no choice but to seek support across the aisle.
Other Republicans saw a once-in-a-career chance to make meaningful investments in the kinds of priorities for their districts that they came to the Capitol to support.
“I’ve been here for a decade and we’re finally doing a lot of the things I ran for office back then to do,” Republican Sen. T.J. Shope told us. “I’ve had to stomach budget cuts and scrape & claw for things like STEM funding for Pinal Community College and be happy about it. This budget and the one time dollars took care of things and I’m glad we’re doing it.”
The hard right presumed their votes would be necessary, and that their party-mates would bend to their will rather than cross the aisle. But as the clock ticked down, it became clear fiscal hawks had overestimated their importance and overplayed their hand.
And so, for the first time since Janet Napolitano was governor, Democrats suddenly became relevant to Republicans at the Capitol. (We’re not counting that time when former Sen. Carlyle Begay, the Democrat who quickly turned Republican, gave a GOP budget its lone Dem vote in 2015 for a budget that slashed state finances.)
Republican legislative leaders earlier this week introduced a spendthrift budget that was mostly porked up around infrastructure projects and other pet projects designed to entice individual lawmakers, but which did little for the Democratic caucus’ big goals. But that wasn’t enough for Democrats and a handful of Republicans who held out for, and won, an additional half-billion dollars for schools, along with other changes like more university funding.
In the end, most Democrats held their noses and voted for budget bills with some line-items they hated, but that overall offered more money for key issues. Most Republicans did the same. It was a true compromise.
And, for what it’s worth, the budget includes funding for problems we’ve been covering for more than a decade: raises for state workers, funding for developmentally disabled service providers, education funding, transportation dollars, paying down debt and keeping state pensions in the black.
The last-minute deal came together as lawmakers — barred from including pet policies in the state budget by a recent Arizona Supreme Court ruling — pushed through a flurry of Republican priority bills in an attempt to deliver holdout Republicans wins for their districts that they could tout on the campaign trail.
But lawmakers still have some unfinished business. Watch out for votes tomorrow or Friday before lawmakers close up for the year on a massive expansion of the state’s voucher system for private and religious schools, a host of election law changes (like having the auditor general do election audits and putting ballot images online) and a spendy new program to provide tax credits to the film industry. And they’ve still got to get to Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed water plan that beefs up a state agency tasked with water projects.
Let’s hurry up and sine die while we can still end on a high note.
We stayed up all night with lawmakers until they adjourned at 5:25 a.m. That’s gotta be worth $100 for an annual subscription, right? Smash the button to buy us breakfast please.
Nearly four years after voters so resoundingly rejected a massive expansion of Arizona’s school voucher system that the dream of a universal voucher program seemed dead, lawmakers yesterday revived the dream.
Republican lawmakers in the House revived and approved a bill to offer vouchers to private and religious schools to all 1.1 million K-12 students daring opponents to attempt a rerun of their successful referendum. Save Our Schools, the group behind the 2018 referendum, said it is up to the challenge.
The bill still needs to clear the Senate, where its fate is uncertain, but GOP lawmakers are hoping that in a post-pandemic world, voters’ opinion of vouchers and public schools has changed drastically enough another promised referendum would see a different outcome.
While it remains to be seen if the public has changed its mind, several Republican lawmakers have already changed their opinions on Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program.
Republican Reps. Michelle Udall, Joel John and Joanne Osborne had thwarted attempts to expand vouchers in the past few years. (Udall was among the few Republicans to vote against the 2017 measure that was subject to the Prop 305 referendum the next year). All three had said the provision in House Bill 2853 that would have required ESA students to take some sort of standardized test at their private school didn’t provide enough accountability. But after the House voted to strip out even that provision, all three lawmakers flipped and supported the bill anyway, passing it out of the House on a party-line vote.
Democrats argued that not only would the ESA expansion decimate funding for public schools, but that it would create a boom in the unregulated market of private schools, leading to predatory practices and shady operators taking advantage of families. Democratic Rep. Mitzi Epstein pointed to the multitude of examples of waste and fraud in the ESA system, and said even at its best, the system naturally breeds inefficiencies due to economies of scale. If the state is buying every kid a printer with their ESA money, for example, that’s a lot of printers.
Democratic Rep. Lorenzo Sierra predicted that Republican lawmakers will be eager to add regulations to the program once liberals start using it to make “woke” schools with curriculum based on the “1619 Project.”
Dems even came up with a clever name for the scandal they see brewing: alt-schools, a reference to the alt-fuels fiasco of the early 2000s. Meanwhile, activists shouted “shame” at lawmakers as they passed the bill.
But public school advocates won a smaller victory as lawmakers last night cut from the budget a significant expansion of the state’s other school choice tool: School Tuition Organizations. The original budget proposal would have tripled the individual tax credit for contributing to STOs and increased the overall cap on the program annually, but as part of the bipartisan budget deal, that provision got scrapped.
Calling all narcs: Phoenix police announced a new gimmick called “Operation Gun Crime Crackdown” yesterday that will dispatch more cops to certain parts of town and ask the public to report any gunshots or people they think might illegally have guns, the Republic’s Miguel Torres reports. The move was spurred by gun violence, including the death of a 14-year-old girl who was shot.
Court-packing round 2: Among the hundreds of budget provisions is a proposal to expand the Arizona Court of Appeals to 28 judges across its two divisions, up from 22, Arizona Public Media’s Andrew Oxford reports. The courts did not request the expansion, which comes after Gov. Doug Ducey’s expansion of the Arizona Supreme Court. Sen. Vince Leach said he was partly responsible for the provision, saying it was needed because the courts were going to have a “tidal wave” of cases after COVID-19, but Oxford points out the courts’ cases have been declining since 2017.
RIP funeral board: Arizona will become one of the few states to no longer require licenses for funeral homes, embalmers and cremationists after Ducey signed a law that will eliminate the state funeral board, though board members are fighting to keep the board alive, the Republic’s Anne Ryman reports.
Dragging drag is a drag: The outrage over drag shows is a version of “QAnon lite,” Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller writes, saying that the anti-drag movement “suggest(s) a pedophile threat without saying it.” He pointed to Republican legislative leaders’ press release on the topic to argue that the drag panic “is really a cover for discomfort with the unapologetic presence of sexual minorities in society.”
Get this man an editor: Attorney General Mark Brnovich wrote an op-ed in the Republic, where he called questioning the 2020 election results an “uncomfortable topic,” which is one hell of a euphemism. He spends the column defending his office’s report on the election and election integrity in general, though it’s never quite clear who or what he’s talking to or about when he writes things like how the report became the “target of attack by pundits on a never-ending search for political intrigue.”
Hikers beware: Visitors to the Grand Canyon are mysteriously coming down with a gastrointestinal illness that causes vomiting and diarrhea, similar to norovirus, the Daily Beast reports. The park has been warning visitors about the problem for more than a month, and it’s rare to see such an outbreak, which has been difficult to track. Authorities from the state and federal government are now investigating the outbreak.
“[Officials] have been following up with interviews from participants from trips who have gotten sick,” Jan Balsom, chief of communications, partnerships, and external affairs at the Office of the Superintendent at Grand Canyon National Park, told the Daily Beast. “They’ve been testing poop scans to try to determine whether or not it is noro.”
That It’s Always Sunny meme: The Arizona Mirror’s Jerod MacDonald-Evoy ties together FreeRoots, the service used by Ginni Thomas to send emails to Arizona lawmakers urging them to overturn the 2020 election, to Arizona Rep. Jake Hoffman, who now is running a site called AlignAct that’s nearly identical to FreeRoots to create email campaigns to support conservative causes.
A tale of a city and a county: Santa Cruz County used its COVID-19 relief funds to give out grants to local nonprofits, expand internet access and incentivize vaccinations, while the City of Nogales used its funds to pay down pension fund debts, the Nogales International’s Angela Gervasi reports in a story that provides great insight into the flexibility governments have with this pot of money. (We’d love to see more rundowns of how all these layers of government spent their considerable federal checks — if you have any documentation of school, city, county and state COVID-19 relief fund spending, please point it our way!)
Always an AZ tie: The FBI handed out more subpoenas yesterday as its investigation into the slates of fake electors continues. Thomas Lane, a Trump campaign staffer in Arizona and New Mexico, received a subpoena, Washington Post reports. Lane appears in a video that seemingly shows him “handing out paperwork for electors at the Arizona Republican Party’s Dec. 14 alternate elector signing ceremony in Phoenix,” the Post writes.
It’s been four months: A pressure campaign calling on President Joe Biden to strike a deal to secure WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release ramped up, with supporters of Griner across dozens of organizations penning a letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reports. Griner’s wife, Cherelle, said she doesn’t believe the Biden administration has started negotiating for Griner’s release, though she said she’s not clear on the White House’s strategy because “They do a lot of talking in code with me.”
After Tuesday’s testimony at the January 6 committee, the audience was House Speaker Rusty Bowers to lose.
And he sure lost some of them — for different reasons.
The left seized on comments Bowers made to the Associated Press, where he said he still would vote for former President Donald Trump. As MSNBC columnist Hayes Brown put it: “What are we even doing here?”
Meanwhile, Bowers’ detractors in his own party went further off the rails. AZGOP Chair Kelli Ward endorsed Bowers’ primary opponent, David Farnsworth, a rarity for the state party. Then Ward’s opponents spoke up to support Bowers and deride Ward and her toxic influence on the party.
This is a good opportunity to re-up Rachel’s 2019 story about the weird all-nighters that we know as budget night at the Capitol. As one first-timer put it, “You and a bunch of punch-drunk people are just burning the midnight oil … in a really depressing way. There’s something unifying in that, in a sense.”