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Legislature to start work on budget

web_fann_8300House and Senate Republicans plan to introduce their budget bills Monday, Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers said.

Their comments Thursday came as several Republican senators continued to reiterate their pledges to vote “no” on any budget that doesn’t address pet issues, including repealing a $32 vehicle registration fee and extending the statute of limitations for child victims of sexual abuse to sue their assailants.

Fann, a Prescott Republican, said those issues continue to come up in budget negotiations between the House and Senate, discussions that resumed Thursday afternoon.

“We never know if we have the votes until we present it to the members,” Fann said. “We are hoping that we can get this done next week, but if it stalls we can go another week.”

Budget speculation ramped up Wednesday after the House moved to suspend its rules to allow members to introduce budget bills, but Fann said that move didn’t mean bills would be released immediately.

“It’s just a matter of moving forward,” Fann said. “We’ll probably do ours on Monday.”

Bowers initially feigned surprise when asked about the Senate’s plan, but said he hopes the two chambers will be able to present their proposals at the same time.

Republicans are still sorting out a few issues with Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, but when Bowers was asked for specifics, he played coy. In particular, he was asked if tax conformity, the rainy day fund and the VLT fee remain key points of disagreement with Ducey.

“Gang, it’s Monday,” he said. “Do you think we don’t already have those things done? A lot of those things are done. But you don’t get the package until the package has got a bow on it.”

Rusty Bowers

Rusty Bowers

He said a proposal exists on those issues, but it still needs to be shopped to members.

Whether either the House or Senate proposals have the votes to pass is yet to be seen, especially when details are scarce.

Senate Assistant Minority Leader Lupe Contreras said the Senate Republican budget might not have the votes to pass. Democrats have been working on their own version of a budget and picked off two Republican votes, he said.

“They could be introducing the budget, but they would have to get with quite a few members to talk,” said Contreras, D-Avondale. “As it stands now, we have 15 members.”

Democrats worked with Fann in the past, but they haven’t seen a current version of the Republican budget, Contreras said. Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said Democratic leadership has since engaged with GOP Sens. Heather Carter and Paul Boyer about a possible bipartisan budget.

Boyer, R-Glendale, said he’s speaking with anyone who will support his efforts to provide sexual assault victims a seven-year window to sue that would start after the victim could be reasonably expected to know he or she had been abused as a child. Current statute gives victims until age 20 to sue, and Boyer has vowed to withhold his vote on the budget unless the law is changed. So has Carter, who could not be reached for comment.

If any Republicans are frustrated that he’s working across the aisle, Boyer said it’s not a big deal as long as the Senate president is meeting with Democrats, too. Fann has repeatedly stated she’s pursuing a budget deal that will satisfy Republicans and Democrats alike.

“It’s not that unusual,” Boyer said, “At least if we truly aren’t just paying lip service to making this a bipartisan budget.”

The House Rules Committee waived its rules today to allow Bowers to introduce a bill adjusting the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims to sue their assailants, but it’s not the same legislation for which Boyer and Carter are boycotting the budget.

Bowers’ bill would extend the age by which victims must file civil lawsuits from 20 to 30. It would allow victims older than 30 to file civil lawsuits within a year after criminal charges are filed, but it would not provide the window Boyer proposed that would allow older victims to sue.

Boyer was not consulted on the House proposal, Bowers said, adding that he’s not bothered by Boyer’s boycott pledge.

“What Mr. Boyer decides to do is up to him,” Bowers said. “We are trying to address the statute of limitations in a way that all the parties have agreed previously to do.”

Fann said Republicans are working to keep Boyer in the fold.

“We have been working very, very hard with Senator Boyer,” Fann said. “The House and Senate are jointly working together to come up with a good compromise.”

Yet Bowers was not shy about leaving Boyer out of that discussion, nor about keeping House Democrats in the dark about his budget plan.

He said Democratic leaders have not been included in the conversation, though some of the minority party members have been briefed regularly on the plan, including sometime this week.

“You may be very surprised how many [votes] we will have on this budget. You may be surprised to know that maybe some of those people you think we need, we don’t,” Bowers said.

The two chambers also are prioritizing a repeal or reduction of the $32 vehicle license tax imposed last year — Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, has pledged a “no” vote unless the Legislature repeals it — and a tax conformity plan, Fann said, but she refused to provide any details.


Ben Giles contributed to this report.

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