2020 Could Be a Wild Ride in the Arizona Legislature


In just a few weeks, the second session of the 54th Legislature and my fourth year in elected office will begin. In has been a jam-packed but productive interim with community events, tours, meetings at the capitol, and conferences on taxes, finance and public health.

One of the more informative meetings I attended this fall was the Arizona Tax Research Association (ATRA) outlook meeting. I have wanted to attend the ATRA meeting for years but chickened out because I knew I would be the only Democratic Legislator. I was the only Democrat, and I’m glad I went.

At the ATRA meeting, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann announced her intention to wrap up the next session quickly — in less than the targeted 100 days or the usual ~120 days. Rumor has it that the Republican goal is 85 days for the 2020 session. You’ll remember that in 2019 the Arizona Legislature voted to move the primary election day up from the end of August to the beginning of August. The related deadlines also have moved up, with the signature deadline falling during the time frame we are usually in session (March 7 – April 6, 2020). Fann gave a nod to tough election in 2020, when she told ATRA attendees that she wants to hear the budget by crossover week in February. She added that Senators Vince Leach and David Gowan have been “building the backbone of the budget” during the interim. She warned Republican Legislators in the ATRA audience that if the budget is not done according to her timetable, she will halt all other bills to focus on the budget and push it through. Given that we didn’t end the last session until Memorial Day, 85 days seems unrealistic to pass the usual 300 or more pieces of legislation. (Of course, passing fewer unnecessary bills could be a good thing for the people of Arizona… depending upon which bills they are.)

Why the escalated pace? Rushing the process means less negotiation, less information, less time to ask questions and seek alternative opinions, less time for constituents to voice their opinions on Request to Speak or at the Capitol, and more opportunity for mistakes and remorseful votes.

Racing through the budget is not a wise idea. I want to make the best budget deal for the people of Arizona.  Rushed decisions are obviously not the best decisions–especially when made in the middle of the night, which is when Republicans like to debate the budget.

Again this year, Arizona has a projected surplus. You’ll remember that in 2019 we had a roughly $1 billion budget surplus in one-time and ongoing funds. Unfortunately, the Republicans instituted tax breaks to give away close to $400 million of that money. Yes, putting some money into the rainy day fund was a good idea, but half of the surplus was a bit much. Yes, some programs — like public education — got some more money, but that wasn’t enough.

We could have invested more of that surplus in P-20 education, school facilities, roads, affordable/low income housing, social safety net services, and much more. But these investments in the public good don’t jive with the “small government/big tax giveaway” philosophy that controls the Arizona Republican Party. The Republicans and the monied interests behind them don’t want to lose their decades-long grip on the Arizona Legislature in the 2020 election. In fact, Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers have established their own political action committee and are doing multiple joint fundraising events around the state, including rumored events here in Tucson. It looks as if these two want to remain in charge. What do you think about this, Tucson? I, for one, would like to see new leadership in the Arizona Legislature in January 2021.

Many programs and services that benefited “We the People” were slashed in the past 10 years by Republicans and never restored. Before the Republicans offer more tax breaks (which they fully intend to do in 2020), the Arizona Legislature should review the billions of dollars in tax breaks we have on the books. We should eliminate the tax giveaways that aren’t meeting their economic development goals, and any new tax giveaways should have a five-year sunset date and measurable economic development goals.

No more blank checks to Corporate America. It’s time for transparency and accountability.

It’s time to fund the People’s To-Do List— education, healthcare, infrastructure, and safety and security– instead of the Corporate Wish List. In 2020, let’s invest in Arizona… rather than giving away more of your taxes.

I’m looking forward to sharing what I have learned at house parties, eventssocial media, and my blog. For regular updates regarding current events or bills in the Legislature, check out my Facebook page. (Read the 2019 session wrap-up here.)

Cross-posted from PowersForThePeople.net.


  1. Pam, what you describe here is not what the Arizona Capitol Times back in September suggested GOP legislators were promising to do regarding the budget. “Legislators aim to reassert authority with early budget”,

    “Although Chairwoman Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) and other GOP leaders wouldn’t put it in such terms, long-time Capitol insiders say the plan harkens back to a time when the Legislature more readily wielded its appropriations power, going toe-to-toe with the Governor’s Office to fight for spending priorities that were fleshed out before the governor could go public with his or her plan. There were powerful appropriations subcommittees that grilled agency heads and full-fledged line-item budget proposals that had party support prior to the release of the governor’s own plan.

    This old arrangement might not only pull back the blinds on the appropriations process, but also provide an opportunity for some of the state’s more beleaguered agencies and departments to work their connections in the Legislature and vie for greater funding than they might get otherwise.

    And in theory, it could provide an opportunity for Democrats yearning to make their desires heard — though whether those desires manifest themselves has yet to be seen, as some key Democrats say they haven’t received an entree into the nascent budgeting process.

    “There used to actually be budgeting committees,” said Chuck Coughlin, the president of HighGround Public Affairs Consultants and a political adviser to then-Gov. Jan Brewer. “You go back to those ancient times, what those processes all did was create ownership in the legislative body of ideas, instead of reacting to what the governor proposes.”

    Long before most current members joined the Legislature, Appropriations subcommittees played a larger role in the budget process, holding hearings with agencies throughout the state in the fall before the session began. Subcommittees held ongoing hearings throughout the session as well, longtime Capitol lobbyist Don Isaacson said.

    “They would actually work a budget from the ground up and then toward the end of that process reconcile their differences between the House and the Senate,” he said.

    That institutional memory had faded so much by the time Jan Brewer took office that the Ninth Floor had to take control just to get a budget written, Coughlin said.”

    This sounds more like the GOP lege leaders are seeking leverage vis-à-vis our GOP governor in an intra-party power struggle. It is not about genuinely reforming the budget process to increase participation from stakeholders, agencies, the Democratic minority and the public, with specific line-item budget proposals debated and approved in committee hearings in an orderly process (much like Congress). We are still headed for a GOP-controlled “take it or leave it” budget negotiated by the GOP leadership and Governor with their monied special interests dropped on the legislature late in the session.

  2. Thank you for going behind enemy lines and reporting back! I think all of us should show up even if we don’t have power, just to have some voice. It seems like this rush and lack of feedback should be something everyone could get behind – one would think!

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