Sen. Thayer Verschoor broke his silence Nov. 20, saying he skipped the third day of the Legislature’s special session because he was still trying to negotiate a deal on the package of legislation with the House and the governor.
Meanwhile, the Senate went ahead with a floor vote without him, he told the Arizona Capitol Times.
“In fact, the president knew I was working with them and he decided to move forward with the bills anyway before an agreement was reached,” said Verschoor, a Republican from Gilbert.
Verschoor’s absence meant that the main budget bill that included spending reductions of about $300 million failed by a vote of 14-13. The Senate needs 16 votes to pass a bill but one Republican voted no simply because he wanted to be on the prevailing side and have the ability to reconsider the measure. All Senate Democrats voted against the measure.
Two other bills passed, including S1003, which would allow several state agencies to access money to pay for parts of their operations, and S1004, which repeals a law that the Legislature passed this year dealing with foreclosures and the state’s anti-deficiency statue.
Senators did not vote on the third bill, S1002.
The House, on the other hand, was waiting to vote on the four bills, but decided to hold off because of the snag in the Senate. The House was expected to pass all four measures.
Senate President Burns showed his disappointed Verschoor when he sent out a scathing media statement after the main budget bill failed charging Verschoor with holding the “state hostage.”
The Senate had waited for about an hour before going to the floor for the vote. After it failed, the Legislature adjourned until Nov. 23.
Verschoor also said Burns had told him his vote was not needed on S1003 because there were enough Democrats on board to pass that bill. Verschoor had tried to amend it the day before because he was opposed to the provisions that would allow state agencies to set their own fee structures.
That bill, S1003 also includes other revenue-generating options, such as requiring two counties to transfer $22 million to the state’s general fund.
Verschoor’s amendment would have removed the agencies’ fee-raising authority, but the Senate rejected it during Committee of the Whole. Verschoor argued that the policy skirts the intentions of voters when they passed Proposition 108, which limits the ability of lawmakers to raise taxes and fees. He said it was like giving authority to agencies to increase taxes and shifted the power of appropriation from the Legislature.
Senate leadership had taken the position that no amendments would be allowed.
“I said, ‘Can we make this amendment?’ And (Burns) said, ‘No, I don’t think so. Don’t worry about it. We don’t your need your vote,’” Verschoor said. “And so therefore I decided — I took him at his word.”
Verschoor said he told Burns that he would vote no on the budget legislation unless they could work out an agreement. But Verschoor said leadership didn’t want to address it this session.
“They wanted to wait until January to address it, and quite frankly, I think that that’s too late,” Verschoor said.
Verschoor said there are “some obvious strained relations between me and the president.”
“He is trying to shift responsibility away from himself,” Verschoor said. “He is absolutely 100 percent responsible for that vote going down yesterday. He knew it was going to go down, and he wasn’t willing to do anything to keep that vote from going down.”
“How am I responsible?” Burns replied. “I voted for the bill along with I think 13 other people. So how does that equate to my failing the bill? He is trying to shift the blame from himself to someone else.”
Burns said Verschoor was on board on the budget cuts until very recently.
“We were of the understanding that he was on board on those cut bills and that’s (why) we jumped through all of the hoops to set up the logistics,” Burns said, adding it wasn’t easy, for example, to get Sen. Carolyn Allen, who recently had a knee surgery and was not feeling well, to come in.
“We wouldn’t have done that if we had known ahead of time. But we were of the assumption that he was supporting those two bills,” he said.
Burns said even as they were voting, he was anticipating that Verschoor would show up “to live to his responsibility as an elected senator.”
Verschoor said he it’s offensive that leadership told him he can’t make any amendments but then they allowed an amendment by Sen. Pamela Gorman, a Republican from Anthem, on S1004, the legislation dealing with foreclosures.
“It sounded hypocritical that they would allow one amendment but not another amendment. I took that to mean that he had the votes and he didn’t care whether he had to work with me or not,” Verschoor said.
Another issue that Verschoor wanted to address was funding for state custodians.
During the regular session, Verschoor had sponsored a bill requiring the Arizona Department of Administration to transfer money it received in fiscal 2010 for custodial and janitorial services to state agencies that occupy state-owned buildings.
The bill, S1314, also requires the Department of Administration to determine the amount of money to be transferred to agencies based upon square footage of the space occupied by an agency. That money would then be used by those agencies to hire current or former state employees to provide custodial services.
As part of its cost-saving measures, the department had laid off custodians. Verschoor’s bill was intended to bring back some of those jobs.
But Verschoor said he got a letter from the department on Nov. 18 saying it won’t implement the legislation.
Verschoor said the state needs the custodians back. “There have been a lot of complaints since those folks have been let go — complaints about security of information where they have been replaced with prison inmates.”
During a House committee hearing last July, Verschoor said the Department of Administration had cut the janitorial staff and brought in prisoners from the Arizona Department of Corrections. He said complaints were received from some agencies that prisoners were working in areas with sensitive information.
The letter from the Department of Administration noted that the fiscal 2010 budget for custodial services is about $800,000, and the cost to rehire all former custodians would be about $1.9 million.
Also, Gov. Jan Brewer said on July 13 when she signed the bill that she has concerns about “administrative difficulties” in implementing the measure and had seriously thought of vetoing it. But Brewer she said she signed the bill because of the narrow scope of Verschoor’s request and his willingness to work for a solution.