Two Republicans, Rep. Vic Williams of Tucson and Rep. Steve Urie of Gilbert, joined four Democrats opposing the bill, which brought out contentious debate and an abundant showing of opposition by students and the universities. Seven Republicans voted for the measure, but the votes from the majority of them came with disclaimers that their approval was tentative.
The debate at times got contentious and ended with Rep. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican, accusing Rep. Matt Heinz, a Tucson Democrat, of trying to embarrass him and scolding him for fighting so hard for an amendment to bill he had no intention of supporting.
“I’m very surprised and dismayed that one member would bring a shot gun to not even a knife fight,” Kavanagh said.
Heinz said that members putting the bill forward should be embarrassed.
Kavanagh said he sponsored the bill, HB2675, because last year during an appropriations hearing he learned that 48 percent of university students don’t pay any tuition.
Christine Thompson, lobbyist for the Arizona Board of Regents, said the figure is more at 25 percent.
Kavanagh’s bill would exempt students on athletic and merit scholarships and he is prepared to craft an amendment that would exempt students who have to move away from home to attend and factor in the additional costs for students who are required to live in dormitories and pay for meal cards.
Student leaders complained that the bill affects the neediest of students and that the minimum requirement of $2,000 a year is enough to bar many students from enrolling.
University of Arizona Student Body President James Allen said that as a Republican he believes that students should have “skin in the game,” but that the additional expense will be enough to break students who encounter unforeseen circumstances.
“They don’t need an additional $2,000 of skin in the game,” Allen said.
Rep. Michelle Ugenti was unsympathetic.
“Welcome to life,” she said.
She said the state shouldn’t be required to subsidize unforeseen circumstances and that the bill isn’t unreasonable.
Robin Nebrich, with the Arizona Students Association, said student debt is increasing and the average amount of debt for Arizona graduates is $20,000, and the additional tuition would only add to that.
Kavanagh was unimpressed.
“After four years they only have $20,000 in debt,” Kavanagh said, comparing that to the cost of a new car. He added that the tuition and an estimated $1,500 a year in books equals only $14,000 at the end of four years.
Rep. Chad Campbell, a Phoenix Democrat, was one of the harshest critics of the bill and he took umbrage with Kavanagh’s use of the word “only.”
“I’m still not sure what problem we’re trying to solve with this,” he said.
Kavanagh said he couldn’t understand what additional expenses a student would have to drive up debt to tens of thousands of dollars.
“Casinos?” Kavanagh asked.
Heinz complained that some members of the committee were treating the students with open hostility.