The Daily Agenda: When all else fails, a bipartisan budget?
Please pass it, we need a vacation ... The Age of Pork is upon us ... And this guy just doesn't like drama.
Arizona lawmakers may be on the verge of passing a historic bipartisan budget after Republican leaders yesterday evening introduced a proposal in the House and Senate with big spending that is sure to draw outrage from some fiscal hawks, but may be enough to buy support from a few Democrats and stave off a government shutdown.
Rank-and-file lawmakers were still scrambling to figure out what’s in the 18-bill package late last night, but key players said they were pleased to see that it includes an additional $1 billion for education that Democrats support and a handful of moderate Republicans demanded, as well as a massive infusion of spending on roads, water and paying off debt. (We’ve uploaded the latest round of budget documents here, and if you need a primer on how to read them, check out this piece. You can watch the House Appropriations Committee here at 8 a.m. today and the Senate committee here at 10:30 a.m.)
While Democratic leadership hasn’t endorsed the proposal, leaders seem aware the budget is designed to pick off some of their members and seem to have adopted a laissez faire approach to keeping the caucus together in the face of a potential government shutdown.
Still, a bipartisan budget is far from a done deal.
Republican Rep. Regina Cobb, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, is coming prepared with a Plan B. With only 10 days to pass a budget or watch the government shutter, Cobb is giving committee members a choice between two budgets: the newly negotiated budget and a “skinny” baseline budget that the committee previously rejected.
“There’s a lot in here for everybody, and I think it should be a very diverse group that will be voting for this at the end of the day,” Cobb told us last night. “But if I can't get a budget where I have all kinds of spending in there, I'm going to get a contingency budget done because I don't want to have to close down the state.”
To hammer the point, she’s going to start the day off with a presentation from the lawyers about what a state government shutdown would look like and hope that scares lawmakers straight.
The new proposal increases education funding to the tune of more than $1 billion, which satisfies Republican Sen. Paul Boyer’s demands in that arena, he said last night.
But it also includes several provisions that will be a problem for the group of Democrats he’s working with. Namely, the budget would bolster the state’s School Tuition Organization program, he said, and doesn’t lift the school spending limit despite giving schools more than they can legally spend. And while it offers new one-time money to the universities, that money is University of Arizona-heavy, and the group wants parity between the three universities.
“It’s the framework of a bipartisan budget, for sure. I think this would be a huge win for K-12,” he said. “We’re really close, and if cooler heads prevail, I think we can get there.”
Perhaps the proposal’s strongest selling point is the infrastructure funding contained in dozens of road construction and maintenance projects across rural Arizona and red urban centers that seem designed to shore up support among recalcitrant Republicans.
azcentral @azcentralOpinion columnist @RJRobb: Leaked budget has a billion dollars in transportation projects chosen through pure politics, not a prioritization based upon statewide needs. https://t.co/TA0WSak8RU
The new draft also funnels tens of millions of dollars into construction and education projects on the Navajo Nation, a sign that Republican lawmakers are making deals with Democratic lawmakers representing the Navajo Nation, or at least trying to entice them into voting for the budget.
And it includes funding for a few perennial district-specific requests from individual Democratic lawmakers, as well as a handful of smaller-dollar priorities for the Democratic caucus — like funding for developmentally disabled rate increases, the housing trust fund and homeless services — that Republicans are not philosophically opposed to.
Of course, lawmakers representing the far flanks of their parties are already finding plenty to hate in the budget. But the latest budget proposal appears to be a good-faith effort to bring together cooler heads in both parties. Considering the alternative is a government shutdown, let’s hope it works.
The other white meat: The Republic’s conservative columnist Robert Robb read through draft budget docs and declared that the era of pork is back, as lawmakers have earmarked funding for dozens of road projects outside the normal road-funding process. He declared that Republicans’ longstanding claim to the high ground on fiscal policy can now be summed up as “on some things on some days, they aren’t quite as bad as the Democrats.”
Kid vax time: The state is ready this week to start vaccinating children under 5 for COVID-19 after the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization. A blog post by the Arizona Department of Health Services’ Carla Berg notes that pharmacies and providers in Arizona have pre-ordered 60,000 doses of the vaccine, with expectations that some providers will be ready to vaccinate young kids starting today.
An idea so bad it’s good: Trump lawyer John Eastman, the legal mind behind the bunk fake electors idea, and others knew the idea was nonsense, but pursued it anyway in a handful of swing states including Arizona, the Washington Post reports. New emails show that in the span of four days, Eastman went from declaring fake electors a bad idea to a good one.
Mental health is health: A mother who lost her son to suicide after her health insurance company deemed his mental health care not medically necessary writes in the Republic that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to overturn a lower court ruling in Wit v. United Behavioral Health would embolden insurers to make decisions like the one that preceded her son’s death.
The man behind the money: The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin reports on how Peter Thiel went from a Facebook board member to a politically ambitious funder of candidates who rail against Big Tech. Thiel’s Arizona wunderkind, Blake Masters, has received more than $13 million for his campaign from his former boss.
“But Thiel’s association with Facebook sometimes hurt both men, particularly Masters. When Masters campaigns in Arizona, locals ask why his main funder is a Facebook board member. His opponent recently ran an attack ad calling Masters a ‘puppet of California Big Tech,’” Dwoskin writes.
No phone, no internet, big problems: U.S. Rep. Tom O'Halleran wants the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the 911 outage in St. Johns, Arizona, which was linked to at least one death, of an older man, the Republic’s Lacey Latch reports. O’Halleran wants the FCC to figure out whether Frontier Communications, the company that provides phone and internet to the area, was negligent.
No communism here: A bill from Republican Rep. Quang Nguyen signed into law last week by Gov. Doug Ducey will require Arizona students to learn the perils of communism and totalitarianism before graduating from high school, the Arizona Mirror’s Jerod MacDonald-Evoy notes.
The most important airplane on earth: The draft version of the latest National Defense Authorization Act that passed the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee last week would phase out some A-10 aircrafts, but not those flying in southern Arizona, Arizona Public Media’s Chris Connover reports.
Abortion woes: Women who face high-risk pregnancies worry about their access to abortion as states further restrict abortion and the end of Roe v. Wade protections could come soon, the New York Times’ Jack Healy reports. A Phoenix woman shared her story about needing an abortion for a pregnancy that could have threatened her life. Though most state laws include exceptions for the health of mothers, advocacy groups and parents aren’t sure how these restrictions will play out in practice.
Tough times for rural hospitals: The Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital could shut down later this summer after a deal for Tucson Medical Center to purchase the rural hospital fell apart, the Green Valley News’ Dan Shearer reports. The hospital still hopes to find a buyer.
The Scottsdale-based Legislative District 3, roughly the equivalent to former LD23, was formerly home to moderate conservatives like Michele Reagan and Carolyn Allen, but its politics have slowly lurched rightward. In the past decade, voters there have sent the Capitol some of its most memorable characters1, from Jay Lawrence to Michelle Ugenti-Rita.
The new LD3 loses the southernmost tail of the old district, cutting out central and Old Town Scottsdale. But it picks up more territory in the north and west, bringing in the heavily Republican areas of Cave Creek, Anthem and New River. Republicans are sure to dominate in November, so the primary is the race to watch. Only one Democrat, Senate candidate Thomas Dugger, is running in the district.
Ugenti-Rita is leaving the Senate to run for Secretary of State, and Rep. John Kavanagh is looking to move back to the district’s Senate seat and earn his ninth term in the Legislature2. He’ll have a fight from Republican newcomer Jan Dubauskas, who has become the new darling of the far-right.
Meanwhile, five Republicans are battling it out for the district’s two House seats. Ernest Anderson stands out for his assertion that voters should “continue” to experience free and fair elections. On the other side of the spectrum is Alex Kolodin, who was fired from representing the Cyber Ninjas but still represents AZGOP in court on all sorts of election-rejection lawsuits, including the recent failed lawsuit attempting to outlaw early voting. He’s taking another shot at running after getting trounced by Ugenti-Rita in 2020. Former lawmaker Darin Mitchell, who first won a seat in the Legislature in 2012 from an empty West Valley rental home where he laid a bare mattress, is seeking a return after moving to the East Valley. Lawyer Nicole Cantelme is making her first run for office, while Rep. Joseph Chaplik is attempting to hang on to his seat amid the rush.
CORRECTION: Yesterday’s District of the Day confused disgraced former lawmakers from LD1. Noel Campbell was briefly running for the district’s Senate seat, not David Stringer.
As GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake battled it out with a drag queen over the weekend, one of her competitors, Matt Salmon, emphasized what he is not: dramatic.
Amidst the social media shitstorm, Salmon tweeted a black-and-white photo of himself in a cowboy hat that said, “No drama just hard work!”
There’s one downside to that approach: Sometimes we forget he’s still in the race, probably because of the lack of drama.
We’re hoping that if former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, fails to become mayor of Fountain Hills, he’ll consider a run for a seat in the Legislature from LD3 in 2024.
We’re not advocates of term limits, but it’s worth pointing out that if they meant anything, Kavanagh would have hit his term limit by now. But because term limits only bar more than four “consecutive” terms per chamber, lawmakers can bounce back and forth between the House and Senate as long as the voters allow.