House Democrats Walk-out, Leaving Arizona's Budget and Tax Cut Uncertain
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Efforts to enact a new $12.8 billion budget and tax cuts sputtered Tuesday as House Democrats refused to come to the floor, leaving the Republican-controlled chamber short of a quorum.
The maneuver came on the heels of Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, saying he had finally lined up all 31 House Republicans to support the modified plan.
Only thing is, four GOP lawmakers are absent. And while House rules allow them to vote remotely, Toma said the Arizona Constitution mandates that there be 31 people physically in the building to get a quorum in the 60-member chamber.
House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, is not suggesting that Democrats have the votes to block the plan.
But he told Capitol Media Services that Republicans presented some new amendments just 90 minutes before the session. And Bolding said that didn't give Democrats enough time to fully understand what the majority was trying to push through at the last minute -- and without sufficient public oversight.
That maneuver also hobbled any attempt by Democrats to research those-last minute changes and offer objections or alterations of their own.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, claimed that the maneuver puts operations of the state at risk.
While the new budget year doesn't start until July 1, the current payroll period ends this week for checks that would be produced next week. But he claimed that if there's no budget in place by the end of this week, that could mean that state employees won't be paid for what they do next week.
And that, he said, leads to ripple effects as government would have to be shut down.
"So if you're planning on a July 4th weekend at a state park of your choice, that won't be available,'' he said.
Also gone, said Bowers, would be funding for schools that open in July, revenues for cities and counties and even the ability of people to visit inmates in state prisons.
And what of essential services, like public safety -- and keeping the prisons secure? C.J. Karamargin, press aide to Gov. Doug Ducey, brushed aside the question of what plans, finances and legal options -- if any -- the state's chief executive has to deal with such a contingency.
"We're confident there will be a budget,'' he said. "We're not going to engage in hypotheticals and what-ifs.''
Complicating matters is that even if the House approves the plan, there may not be the votes in the Senate.
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said Tuesday it is "up in the air'' whether she will support the spending and tax-cut plan. And with no Senate Democrats willing to vote for the plan, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, needs her vote.
Townsend wants Ducey to rescind his executive order giving him emergency powers.
She pointed out that if lawmakers approve the budget, they will adjourn for the year. And that, Townsend said, leaves the governor with broad unilateral authority to enact restrictions and even effectively alter state laws, with the legislature not around until next January to try to countermand his actions.
Townsend also is balking at providing tax relief for the most wealthy to counter Proposition 208 which imposes a 3.5% surcharge on earnings over $500,000 a year for married couples.
She believes an audit will show that the measure did not pass. And Townsend questioned the need for legislation that makes sharp reductions in tax rates for the most wealthy if it really failed.