Thank God it’s sine die!


No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” –Mark Twain

One of the worst legislative sessions in recent years mercifully came to an end on Wednesday evening. Thank God it’s sine die! Now bar the windows and doors of the capitol before they can come back and do any more harm.

The Arizona Republic reports, Arizona Legislature ends session with tax, welfare bills on final day:

State lawmakers ended their 2017 session Wednesday with a tax-break flourish, approving two tax-credit bills worth millions of dollars aimed at spurring business development, and a revision of a controversial cash-aid program for poor families.

The 122-day session ended at 6:58 p.m., a rare daytime close from a Legislature that has extended debate late into the night and into the morning in recent years. Lawmakers applauded the daylight end as a sign of the more genial tone of this year’s Legislature.

The tax bills and the cash-aid programs were philosophical bookends to this 53rd session, which used tax incentives to boost business and carrot-and-stick approaches to attempt to wean people off state assistance.

The key tax measure, Senate Bill 1416, passed the House with one vote to spare. In the Senate, it had a comfortable 21-8 margin.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, the bill extends several tax incentives aimed at boosting Arizona’s manufacturing sector, including Intel’s plans to expand in Chandler.

The bill, watered down from an earlier version, highlighted the Legislature’s ideological divide on the role of tax breaks and incentives. Most Republicans supported it, although a handful who objected to tax credits joined Democrats in opposition.

The bill extends the Quality Jobs program lawmakers created years ago until 2025. It provides tax breaks for employers who meet certain hiring and salary requirements. The program was slated to expire this year.

It also extends the current research and development tax-credit program for five years, with the rates — which are pegged to the size of an investment — dropping in 2022.

Bill criticized as give-away of tax dollars

Democrats complained the bill was a give-away of state tax dollars that makes it impossible to address some of the state’s pressing needs, such as more education funding, pay raises for state workers and infrastructure repair.

Lawmakers also sparred over the size of the tax break in the bill, with Democrats arguing a legislative budget-office estimate of the bill omitted details that could drive the cost to as much as $10 million over the next three years. That estimate put the cost at $1.6 million a year.

The Arizona Capitol Times adds:

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said the record in Arizona disproves the theory that tax breaks for business will grow the economy.

She cited a recent report that various tax exemptions and credits total $14 billion, more than the $9.8 billion state budget. But Rios pointed out that the current state budget is essentially equal to what it was a decade ago, “with more than half a million more people in Arizona.”

“Where’s all this revenue that’s flooding into the state?” she asked.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, took particular issue with provisions of the bill that extend special tax credits to firms to reimburse them for the cost of doing research and development. The state is forgoing millions of dollars of taxes, and that’s not the worst of it, she said.

“This bill also gives away millions of dollars in research royalties into the future, with no end date,” Powers Hannley said, research that was financed by taxpayers in the first place.

“Giving away all the intellectual property rights is a huge potential loss of future revenues,” she continued. “When the voters fund research or fund anything, the voters should get a return on their investment.”

She said the benefit to the state amounts to “trickle-down economics.”

Back to The Republic:

To sweeten the deal in the House, Rep. Jill Norgaard, R-Phoenix, revived a bill that Gov. Doug Ducey had vetoed last month. The measure gives a sales-tax break for people who share ownership of aircraft and clarifies what qualifies as ownership.

But the break, now included in SB 1416, is likely to win the governor’s signature as he has lobbied hard for the overall tax package.

Lawmakers also added an extra $10 million to a tax-credit program intended to spur small-business development. House Bill 2191 passed with bipartisan support.

The final bill to pass was an extension of the state’s cash-aid program for poor families, House Bill 2372. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families will revert to a two-year lifetime limit, but with new restrictions that critics said will kick people out of the program before they can hit the two-year mark.

It was a key part of Ducey’s agenda, and it took two Democratic votes to win passage in the Senate. Democratic Minority Leader Katie Hobbs and Sen. Robert Meza, both of Phoenix, voted yes with most of the Republicans.

The final votes came hours after lawmakers approved several other bills now headed to the governor’s desk. They include:

House Bill 2494, which provides legal immunity for anyone who enters a locked, unattended vehicle to rescue a child or pet if the person believes the child or pet is “in imminent danger of physical injury or death.” Critics, such as Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, complained the bill was overly vague and put animals on a par with children.

Despite those objections, the so-called “puppies and babies bill” passed its final House hurdle on a 35-20 vote.

House Bill 2091, which waives the fingerprint requirement for food-stamp eligibility. The bill had faltered last week, when it was not included in the state budget, but was revived as supporters successfully argued it would save the state $3 million.

“They’ve had six people caught in six years,” said Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa. “It’s a waste of money.”

Mesnard made a pitch for his plan to ensure half of the inflation dollars directed to the public schools each year go to teacher cost-of-living raises. However, he declined to offer an amendment to an education bill because it did not have enough support.

Also, School officials threatened a lawsuit over Mesnard’s proposal forcing them to raise teacher pay.

The Arizona Capitol Times adds:

The slog of voting Wednesday morning and afternoon finished a session that could have dragged on even longer, were it not for a deal struck Tuesday in the Senate on a bill to consolidate election dates.

SB1152, pushed by Rep. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, is intended to spark a lawsuit against the state of Arizona after lawmakers lost a previous legal battle over their right to consolidate elections at the Arizona Supreme Court.

So our lawless Tea-Publican legislature is acting in defiance of the court, hoping that Governor Ducey’s stacking of the state supreme court last year will result in a different outcome. One-party authoritarianism is run amok.

It may not have been a significant policy issue for most lawmakers, including Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. But Yarbrough noted that SB1152 was a critical part of getting enough support to approve a $9.8 billion budget a week ago, and the Senate needed to fulfill its obligation to pass the bill.

“Once the commitment was made to get it up there, that became the problem,” Yarbrough said.

Senate leadership was prepared to call upon Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain HIlls, to fly back to the Capitol on Thursday from a week-long teaching course in Louisiana, with plans for a late-night vote on several bills shortly after he landed in Phoenix.

Instead, Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, reached a deal that ended her opposition to the bill. Her decisive vote on SB1152 allowed the Senate and House to move along and adjourn sine die on Wednesday, and in rare fashion — the last time the Legislature finished its work in the light of day was June 19, 2003.

The damage had already been done earlier. The legislature’s worst decisions, making it impossible for Arizonans to exercise their constitutional right to pass laws by citizens initiative and the “vouchers for all bill” are both subject to referendum efforts that will now get underway. Other actions by our lawless Tea-Publican legislature will soon be challenged in court.

UPDATE: That didn’t take long. Arizona Legislature leaves, and lawsuits start: Group targets limits on ballot initiatives:

The lawsuit seeks to stop House Bill 2244 from becoming law. The suit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, argues the law is unconstitutional and creates additional hurdles to the people’s right to propose laws through citizen initiatives.

The law would require initiative petitions to meet technical requirements, such as the size of the margin on a petition sheet. If a margin were off by a quarter of an inch, then arguably it would not strictly comply with the law, and the signatures on the petition could be disqualified.

The suit was filed on behalf of two individuals who been involved in citizen ballot drives, as well as the Animal Defense League, which has worked on various ballot measures dealing with the humane treatment of animals.

The suit names the state as the defendant and seeks both a preliminary injunction and a finding that the law is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit argues the new law violates the separation of powers because the Legislature is stepping into judicial terrain by requiring courts to impose strict legal compliance on the petitions citizen groups submit, said Roopali Desai, attorney for the plaintiffs.

A separate referendum drive, Grassroots Citizens Concerned, has circulated petitions to block the signature-ban law for more than a month.