Earlier today (May 12, 2023,) Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs signed the FY 2023-24 budget approved in bipartisan votes in the Arizona State Legislature earlier in the week.
In signing the measure, the Governor, in an official press release, noted:
“Today, we showed what happens when pragmatic leaders come together and compromise to get things done for Arizonans. While it isn’t perfect, this budget is an important step towards making housing more affordable, building more roads, bridges, and broadband access, expanding children’s health insurance, and investing in our public schools. I’m glad legislative leaders were able to come together to deliver for Arizona, and I look forward to our continued partnership.”
The Governor is right on several fronts.
As mentioned in earlier articles this week on the budget, there is much to be happy about in the budget from a Democratic perspective.
She is also right that, from a Democratic perspective, the budget (and the process that led up to its passage) was not perfect.
Commenting on the budget, the process, and the Democratic perspective, Republican political consultant Tyler Montague offered:
A View from Arizona Democratic State Senators.
Most Democrats who voted for the budget did so by taking the pragmatic approach the Governor cited in her statement.
Arizona Legislative District (LD) Four State Senator Christine Marsh issued a release to her constituents, proclaiming that the budget, despite its shortcomings (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) and the way the process was conducted and delivered, was the best for Arizonans in years.
“While the budget that passed the Senate Wednesday morning is far from perfect, I am proud of how hard our Democratic caucus fought for the priorities of our constituents. We managed to secure:
$300 million in one-time FY24 K-12 funding
$88.6 million in new, ongoing K-12 funding
A lifted Aggregate Expenditure Limit for next year
$150 million Housing Trust Fund Deposit
$60 million for Homeless Shelter and Services
Legalized and appropriated funding for drug testing equipment
Expanded KidsCare to cover an additional 12,000 low-income children
However, I am incredibly disappointed in the process and some important items which were not included in the budget. Legislative Democrats were not included in negotiations until the 11th hour, and the budget does not include a cap on the universal Empowerment Scholarship Account program, which threatens the state’s financial security. Despite fighting hard the entire session to get even a moderate cap in place, the majority refused to even consider it.
I’m also disappointed in the majority party’s threats of stripping Democratic priorities out of the budget if we did not have at least six Democrats vote yes. In fact, they had already taken our stuff out of the budget and had to put it back in in the middle of the night, delaying our vote on the feed bill until about 4:30AM.
This budget was the best we could expect. Had this budget failed, the options on the horizon would have been far worse.
Despite these many shortcomings, I believe the budget was a win for LD 4’s priorities and is the best budget we’ve seen in decades, and I was ultimately proud to vote for most of the budget bills, including the feed bill.”
LD Nine State Senator Eva Burch, who also approved of the included Democratic budget priorities, issued a video on social media, repeating many of the same themes as Senator Marsh, namely not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Please view the video below.
Save Our Schools Arizona is still Peeved
Save Our Schools Arizona immediately issued a statement after the release of the budget, condemning it for not curbing the growth of ESA voucher accounts and the Governor for not trying hard enough to do so in her negotiations with Republicans.
“The absence of a solution on the ESA voucher program in the K-12 budget negotiated by Governor Hobbs and passed today by the legislature is a flagrant betrayal of public education. It is abundantly clear that the failure to slow the growth of universal vouchers will accelerate the dismantling of public education, bankrupt our state, and rob desperately needed funds for schools, roads, public safety, water projects, health care, and more.”
“Governor Hobbs failed to fulfill her promise to 1.1 million public school students when she vowed to slow the growth of the universal ESA voucher program. Through inaction, the governor and legislature are enabling ESA vouchers to double in the next year, meaning the state will soon be spending $1 billion per year to subsidize private education options, in most cases for kids who already attend private school. Make no mistake: the end game is to starve and destroy public education. Pro-public education lawmakers must stand up to out-of-state, deep-pocketed special interests who only see Arizona children as backpacks full of cash.”
“Failure to slow the growth of the ESA voucher program carries far-reaching and irreversible consequences for Arizona students and families. The taxpayer dollars siphoned away to universal ESA vouchers this year alone could have funded $10,000 pay raises for 35,000 educators to help address Arizona’s growing teacher retention crisis.”
“The time to fight for public education is now. Not next year, and not in 2025. By all projections, by then it will be too late. The answer here does not lie in electoral politics; it lies in convincing our elected politicians to take a firm and principled stand for the 92% of Arizona families who choose and rely on our local public schools.”
“For our part, we will continue to demand and work toward real solutions to fully fund and prioritize public education. We will not stop until Arizona reverses the tide of school privatization and fully invests in our neighborhood public schools, educators, and students.”
Later when asked to elaborate on the statement and the political realities of the moment like were there the votes to pass the budget with ESA growth containment, Save Our Schools Director Beth Lewis commented:
“In this budget process, rolling back ESA vouchers was not prioritized and was not pushed hard enough during negotiations. The reality is, Superintendent Horne would likely be the first to tell you that the program has grown too big too fast and the brakes need to be pumped so that ESA voucher students have their needs met. It does not appear the work to whip the votes for ESA rollback was taken seriously.”
Did the Democrats Get the Best Deal Possible?
Possibly although there are commentators like Laurie Roberts and E.J. Montini who are both busting a gut writing columns criticizing the Governor over the strategy and tactics she employed in the budget negotiations.
Roberts says Hobbs caved.
Montini even started hinting at the Governor becoming the next Kyrsten Sinema.
Those assertions may be a bit much.
Honestly, it is not surprising the voucher expansion survived this budget process. There was no reality where Republicans were going to undo it one year after passing the measure.
It is a little more surprising that a cap on voucher growth was not, apparently, seriously entertained. Republicans may have still universally opposed it. As I said in a previous article. This is not the Bob Dole, George HW Bush, John McCain, or Mitt Romney Republican Party anymore. They can no longer claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility. They are not even (and this is really scary) the party of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush anymore. These MAGA Republicans would probably squeeze every possible hidden tax cut (the scholarships) for their rich friends and themselves before restoring fiscal sanity to the state balance sheets.
Maybe the Governor, knowing who was on the other side of the negotiating table, was right to not waste time in pursuing ESA growth in budget talks and to remind readers (and pundits like Roberts and Montini,) she and the Democrats did, as Senator Marsh said, get the best budget for the people and the state in years.
But, as Beth Lewis and others alluded to in off-the-record comments, you do not know unless you try.
As mentioned in my last article on the budget, there is a learning curve here and the Democrats and the Governor have probably learned a lot from this teachable moment and will know what to do better when the budget negotiations for FY 25 start.
They will need that when they try to undo what Senator Mitzi Epstein and Representative Andres Cano call “the Republican’s Alt-Schools ESA voucher program.”
The after-the-fact, back-patting that legislative Democrats are bestowing upon each other over the revised budget is baloney. In the Senate, the Democrats refused to take part in negotiations with Republican legislators. (A similar dynamic in the House, I am told, took place although I was not there.) I know this because I personally asked Minority Leader Epstein to give me the Dem’s list of asks by amount and priority of up to $1 billion. She said she would and for three weeks she kept saying she would but then in the end, she said that they could not do anything until the next month when the Financial Advisory Committee report came in. That made no sense and as an aside, one Senate Dem said that she never asked him about what he wanted. It was then that we decided to approach the governor and negotiate directly with her.
The governor was highly receptive and involved in the negotiations, which took place between her, the speaker and the senate president. In my 17 years at the legislature, I have never seen a governor as involved. She was meeting more than once a week with them. I should point out that the legislative Republicans in both the House and the Senate at the time negotiations with the governor started had already agreed on how to spend our share of the budget, which was half the one-time surplus or about $1 billion. We told the Governor that we wanted the Dems to spend the other half of the surplus and to not put things that were toxic to Republicans into it. That is why the ESAs were not touched. We also omitted some toxic things.
A final budget was agreed upon with the governor and its provisions were in the bills that went up before the appropriations committees in both chambers. Those were the budget bills that legislative Democrats opposed. That is when the legislative Democrats panicked and began to talk with the governor and the governor also began to talk with the Republicans and the end result was the addition of a small number of changes that we put into the budget as amendments during the committee of the whole. The big list of dem accomplishments legislative dems are not taking credit for came out of the earlier talks with the governor and not them. She got most of them but some were also Republican shared requests, like the housing trust fund.
So what was added after the Dems in the House and Senate screamed and protested? What did the actions of the legislative dems cause to be added to the budget? Here is the list of COW-added items that legislative dems can rightfully take credit for:
$7.5 million additional for Western AZ College Workforce Program
$5 million in grants to fire districts for capital needs
$5 million for housing assistance for individuals over 60
$2.5 million for the Nurse Family Partnership program
$2 million for Pima Community College
$1.5 million for a tribal broadband connectivity project
$1 million for the Center for High School Success
$1 million for fall prevention studies on the UA School of Public Health
$600,000 in refunds for six tribes ($100,000) for event wagering applications
$250,000 for Early Literacy
That’s right, the legislative Democrats can take credit for about $26 million which would not have been in the budget had a majority of them not voted yes.
As Paul Harvey would say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
Correction: Sen Miranda had $60 million for homeless programs that might have been removed had she voted no and Sen. Epstein may have had a small garden or tree program.
John Government Checks Kavanagh seems to be upset that some Dems got some wins and he doesn’t want anyone happy about those wins?
Or he’s upset that there was back and forth in “negotiations”?
I’m not sure what he’s tripping on, but he’s very wordy about it.
That tells me….Dems did good and we should be happy!
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