Arizona House Republicans released their state budget framework Thursday. It includes a larger and quicker teacher pay raise than the one proposed by Governor Doug Ducey in next year’s budget and returns monies to the state highway fund.
But Legislative Democrats say neither proposal goes far enough to repair the harm caused by years of cuts to education and other programs. They made their case at a budget town hall in Yuma this weekend.
The democrats brought their heavy hitters to Yuma, in particular, both their leaders from the Senate and House. They’re looking for public input on their priorities as they look to influence the budget debate. House Minority Whip, and LD4 Representative Charlene Fernandez, says information gathered at town halls like this one are useful.
"When we're debating on the floor this is what we're going to use. Our constituents talking to us, telling us what's important. We already know there is a crisis in public education. We're not choosing to ignore it," she says.
Public Education is the top priority for Democrats, starting with pay raises for teachers. While the Governor has proposed a 2 percent raise for teachers spread out over 5 years, and House Republicans have proposed an immediate 1 percent raise, Democrats want an immediate 4 percent raise. They say that is the first step in revitalizing Arizona schools.
To pay that $137 million price tag and fund some of their other priorities, Senate Minority Leader, and LD29 Senator Martin Quezada, says the state needs to break its habit of tax cuts and exemptions.
"Given all of the tax cuts that have taken place over the last twenty-plus years, and you include inflation in that amount, it would round out to another $4 billion that we would have in our budget right now to address all of those needs."
Democrat’s say lack of revenue has led past legislatures to sweep highway funds or ignore voter-mandated spending.
Quezada says he sees room for Democrats to negotiate in the legislature, especially given the differences in the House Republican and Governor’s proposals.
But Rep. Fernandez says, so far, Democrat requests to review tax cuts and increase state revenue have been rebuffed by Republican leadership.