Arizona lawmakers push to finish work amid budget impasse
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers pressed Friday to finish their yearly work. In between contentious budget negotiations that advanced in fits and starts, they voted on a wide variety of remaining legislation. Here’s a look at the highlights:
The House approved some of the bills required to implement an $11.8 billion spending plan for the budget year that starts July 1. But the Senate went home late Friday as Republican leaders continued trying to resolve an impasse.
A handful of Republican senators are refusing to vote for the budget unless their demands are met. With no Democratic support, the Senate needs 16 or 17 GOP members to back the deal that Speaker Rusty Bowers, Senate President Karen Fann and Gov. Doug Ducey negotiated.
Republicans backed new requirements for initiative petition circulators, the latest proposed hurdle for ballot measures promoted by Republicans and business interests that have seen voters enact policies the GOP-controlled Legislature opposes.
The measure approved requires paid circulators or those from other states to sign a notarized form and supply contact information before collecting signatures, among a variety of other new requirements. Providing false information would be a misdemeanor.
“I do believe this is a cowardly approach to furthering a political agenda instead of actually persuading voters based on the strength of your argument,” said Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada.
Republicans say rich donors have taken over the initiative process.
“What’s happened today is a complete perversion of the original populist notion,” Republican Rep. John Kavanagh said.
The bill no longer gives the attorney general the power to rewrite the ballot language describing an initiative. That provision was pulled out for lack of support in the Senate.
CHARLES KEATING IV PEAK
The House overwhelmingly decided not to name a mountain peak west of Phoenix in honor of a fallen Navy SEAL.
Lawmakers voted 45-15 to reject a bill to name the tallest peak in Estrella Mountain Regional Park after Charles Keating IV. Keating was killed in 2016 in Iraq during a battle with Islamic State fighters.
Republican Rep. Walter Blackman, an Army veteran, said it’s offensive to ask lawmakers to honor one veteran over another. Democratic Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, whose district includes the peak, said there are local heroes worthy of the honor.
The Gila River Indian Community also opposes the change, saying the mountain range has religious and cultural importance. One of the tribes that make up today’s Gila River Indian Community rejects naming landscapes after people who’ve died.
Keating was the grandson of Arizona financier Charles H. Keating Jr., who served prison time for his role in the costliest savings and loan failure of the 1980s.
SCHOOL TUITION ORGANIZATIONS
The House unanimously approved a plan that phases out 20% annual increases to a corporate tax credit that funds private school scholarships. The bill would scale back the growth over four years and then increase it yearly by 2% or the inflation rate.
The tax credit funds so-called School Tuition Organizations that distribute the corporate cash they receive to private school students. The program started at $10 million in 2008 but now allows corporations to divert more than $100 million yearly to the school organizations and get credit toward their income taxes. Under the bill, the maximum value of tax credits in 2024 would drop from about $220 million to $145 million.
The bill is on its way to Ducey’s desk.
PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS
Emergency legislation giving a handful of Navajo children another year to use their vouchers for tuition at a private New Mexico Christian school was approved cleared the Legislature without opposition. It goes next to Ducey.
The proposal sidesteps a law requiring vouchers to be used at Arizona schools after the Department of Education discovered the vouchers were being used out of state.
The plight of the seven children rocketed to lawmakers’ attention when the school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children released a video over the weekend. It showed parents blasting the Education Department for letters demanding they repay the money illegally spent out of state.