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Arizona Republicans say some of their own took tax rebate money for pet projects

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- The head of the Arizona Freedom Caucus said Monday more Arizonans would have gotten tax rebate if other lawmakers -- including some of his Republican colleagues -- had not instead nabbed their share for hometown pet projects.
At a press conference Monday, Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, boasted of the $260 million set aside in the $17.8 billion budget for one-time tax relief. He said that was necessary to help offset the inflation and higher costs he laid at the feet of the Biden administration.
But that $260 million, he said, left just enough so that the only people eligible were families with children.
And what of others, such as seniors living on fixed incomes?
"Had every member of the Legislature committed their dollars to funding this, we would have had a $2.4 billion rebate, which would have been able to impact seniors and those other categories,'' he said.
That was the amount left over after lawmakers adopted a funding plan for the upcoming fiscal year and made required adjustments for inflation and program growth.
So to line up the votes, negotiators agreed to give each lawmaker cash -- generally $30 million for senators and $20 million for representatives, with a separate allocation for the governor -- from that surplus.
Lawmakers had the option to pool their shares for larger issues, like the decision by Democrats to pool some of their share for $300 million in one-time funding for K-12. The $150 million deposit into the Housing Trust Fund also came out of pooled Democrat dollars.
Hoffman sought to do the same thing for the rebate.
"But, unfortunately, what we saw for this budget season was that only the members behind me and a handful of other conservative Republicans chose to spend their money that way, chose to spend taxayer dollars to give it back to taxpayers,'' he bemoaned.
Well, not exactly.
Among those assembled at the podium behind Hoffman was Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli. And the Lake Havasu City Republican conceded that his share ended up being earmarked for a $35.5 million bridge at Lake Havasu City.
Hoffman snapped when asked about those decisions made by his colleagues.
"Your goal here is to divide Republicans,'' he said.
"Your goal here is to create some type of hit piece and some angle that you can exploit,'' Hoffman said. "That's not what we're here to do.''
But what of GOP lawmakers who decided that projects, ranging from traffic circles, pavement improvements, sidewalk construction and extending existing highways? Hoffman deflected the question.
"You want to talk about Republicans?'' he said.
"The reality is not a single Democrat contributed even one penny of that $2.4 billion to help Arizona families with the tax rebate,'' Hoffman said. "That's an unfortunate travesty.''
And what of the $300 million to help fund K-12 schools?
"That's not what we're here to talk about today,'' he responded.
Borrelli, for his part, defended earmarking his share of the surplus for something other than tax relief.
"Rural Arizona was always ignored,'' he told Capitol Media Services after the press conference.
And Borrelli said having a second bridge across the channel to the island -- created to provide something for the London Bridge to actually pass over -- is a matter of public safety.
Nor was he apologetic about his earmark which he said he shared with other area lawmakers.
"We took care of our district,'' Borrelli said. "That's what they sent me here to do.''
He did not dispute that, under normal circumstances, the priority for funding road projects is determined by the Arizona Department of Transportation. It has a constantly updated five-year plan where it funds needs based on priorities. Leaving the decision to ADOT clearly left Borrelli cold.
"So you're saying a state agency, a bureaucracy has more authority than the state Legislature to dictate how that money's going to be spent, and in what manner? he said.
Borrelli is far from the only one to demand his share of the surplus, though he was the only one who showed up at Hoffman's press conference to take credit for the rebate -- or, at least what was left to give out after he and others got their projects funded.
And they're scattered all around the state.
Among the 44 earmarks, there's $1.8 million for the city of Sierra Vista for improvements on Theater Drive. Globe will get $3.5 million for sidewalk construction along Jesse Hayes and Six Shooter Canyon roads. And $15 million for Tucson for improvements to the Drexel Road bridge.
Other funding is for projects yet to come.
The budget has $9.2 million for Pinal County to engineer and design of a new east-west corridor. Another $10 million would go to Marana to design a traffic interchange between Interstate 10 and Cortaro Road. And there's even $250,000 to Cave Creek to study expanding the number of lane along Cave Creek Road.
Not all the earmarks are for roads.
There's $750,000 for Chandler, Tucson and Mesa police departments for a pilot program on the use of pepper balls. Peoria Police will get $3.5 million for a helicopter. And Mohave County is in line for $500,000 for sheriff's office vehicle purchases.
And even nonprofits get in on the action, like $15.3 million for a volunteer organization that operates a rodeo at the Yavapai County fairgrounds.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia