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Budget stalls as number of GOP holdouts grows

Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

After Republican leaders boasted that they would introduce a budget Monday and finish it this week, the Arizona Senate adjourned Thursday evening with no budget vote and a warning from Senate President Karen Fann that lawmakers should be prepared to work Saturday and Memorial Day.

Fann, a Prescott Republican, said she hoped a compromise is near: “With fingers crossed in a prayer, hopefully we can get something resolved and we can wrap up business tomorrow.”

But given that at least three GOP senators and one representative publicly vowed to vote against a budget deal unless specific demands are met, while several others are still trying to win concessions in private negotiations, Fann warned her colleagues via email to prepare to remain at the Capitol over the weekend, with a break on Sunday for “church and family time.”

It’s unclear if the House, which was still at work early Thursday evening, would follow suit.  There’s discussions among representatives about voting on some, or possibly all, the budget bills late Thursday night, according to Rep. TJ Shope.

Working through the weekend is also “possible,” the Coolidge Republican said.

“Hell, if it were up to me we would be coming back Sunday, too,” Shope said. “Mass only lasts 45 minutes.”

In a year in which the legislative session has dragged on well past the 100-day mark, it’s no surprise that a budget vote itself would elude Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. All week, GOP leaders have failed to corral the necessary 31 votes in the House and 16 votes in the Senate to approve an $11.8 billion spending negotiated with Gov. Doug Ducey.

Fann blames Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, for the budget “mess.” The Senate president expressed her frustration with budget negotiations in a conversation with a senator and two lobbyists Thursday morning, telling them “Carter has messed this thing up so badly. You have no idea.”

Carter, like Republican Sen. Paul Boyer of Glendale, pledged to oppose the budget unless and until the Legislature votes to expand opportunities for survivors of child sexual abuse to sue their abusers. Boyer is working with Shope on legislation to address that issue.

But Carter has other issues with the budget, including a lack of funding for graduate medical education and gifted education and less money than she wanted in additional assistance for school districts and homelessness.

Carter broke from the Republican majority and joined Senate Democrats to vote against every budget bill that came before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. And Boyer said he’ll stand by Carter because she stuck her neck out for him.

Both senators left the Capitol by early Thursday afternoon, further frustrating Fann.

“I understand Carter left for the day, so we can’t even negotiate with her,” Fann said before starting a meeting with the remaining 15 Senate Republicans. “She and Boyer left so they’re not even here to negotiate.”

Boyer told the Arizona Capitol Times via text that he was away from the Capitol grading papers for his high school literature class, but that he was always willing to negotiate. Carter told the Capitol Times she was in “constant negotiations.”

“Modern technology is wonderful!” she wrote in a text. “It’s my daughter’s graduation day and my phone is plugged in and working so hard it’s steaming!”

Fann’s troubles don’t end there.

A small contingent of Republican lawmakers have objected to budget language that would conform state tax law to changes in the federal tax code.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has demanded the tax code be changed to three brackets, a solution Fann said could be agreeable since it “won’t blow up the budget.” Fann told the Arizona Capitol Times on Wednesday night she’s open to allowing senators to vote on Mesnard’s conformity proposal, as opposed to the four tax brackets she agreed to with Ducey.

But as of Thursday evening, Mesnard said he still didn’t know if his colleagues would get to vote on a plan despite his belief that they would support it.

Mesnard said he’s standing firm on not voting for a budget unless his plan, or something like it, is adopted. Failure to do so “will mean that people are paying hundreds or thousands more, and I don’t think that’s what we’re about in this party,” he said.

Republican Sens. David Farnsworth, Tyler Pace and Sylvia Allen have also told the Arizona Capitol Times they’d rather vote for Mesnard’s tax conformity plan.

Allen said she’d still vote for the budget without it, but Pace said he’s not yet comfortable voting for the budget and Farnsworth wants to know where other lawmakers stand before he commits either way.

In the House, Rep. Tony Rivero has threatened to vote against the budget for the same reason as Mesnard. The Peoria Republican also opposes Ducey’s signature budget proposal, a plan to save more than $1 billion in the state’s rainy-day fund.

Padding the state’s savings account is akin to stashing the public’s money in “a bureaucratic slush fund,” Rivero said.

As for Democrats, who’ve been sidelined in budget negotiations as they often are in the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature, the minority party is holding out hope that if enough GOP representatives and senators oppose the budget, Fann, Bowers and Ducey will be forced to negotiate with them to get a majority vote for the spending plan.

Lawmakers are constitutionally required to adopt a budget before July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

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