House Speaker David Gowan’s decision to lift a ban on journalists covering proceedings from the House floor means all eyes are again focused on stalled negotiations on a nearly $10 billion state budget package.
Lawmakers have been slow-walking budget negotiations for the past couple of weeks, despite Gov. Doug Ducey’s call for lawmakers to stop sending him legislation before a budget.
The ban, which was put in place by Gowan last week because of purported security concerns, was lifted Tuesday after becoming a major distraction.
Senate President Andy Biggs said Wednesday he and Gowan are now meeting on budget issues, but a deal isn’t close.
“We are having regular meetings, working hard,” Biggs said. “I will know Tuesday night whether we’re going to be together on a budget – we’re not doing a budget this week.”
Gowan left the floor after Wednesday’s afternoon session without taking questions. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Justin Olson said budget negotiations are ongoing, but declined to give details.
Republican Sen. Don Shooter, who chairs the Senate appropriations committee, said his chamber has been ready to move a budget for weeks and he hopes lifting the ban breaks the logjam.
“I hope some of these distractions are going away and we can work on getting a budget out,” Shooter said Tuesday.
Ducey said Wednesday he’s still insisting on a balanced budget but may consider some new spending.
“What’s important to me is that we have a structurally balanced budget,” Ducey said. “So I have said to different members of the Legislature, different interests around town and the state that have certain things they want to advocate for, that I’m open-minded. But what’s most important to me is that we’re living within our means as a state.”
Ducey proposed a $9.5 billion spending plan in January that mainly leaves in place much of a nearly $500 million budget surplus.
“We had to make some really difficult decisions in last year’s budget,” Ducey said. “This year we have some dollars available, so I think that’s the discussion that’s going on. But in terms of dramatically increasing spending, that’s not going to happen.”
Prescott Rep. Noel Campbell is one of the House Republicans who is pushing for more spending for universities, K-12 schools and local roadbuilding efforts. He said despite House and Senate leadership meetings, rank-and-file GOP members are not yet involved and don’t plan on going along with a deal until they are consulted. That means the usual rush to pass a budget after leaders come to a deal with the governor may not come to pass this year.
“I’m waiting for them to start calling us in in groups and saying ‘Here’s what we’re proposing, what do you propose,'” Campbell said. “The negotiation hasn’t started yet, that’s what I’m saying.”