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Ducey flexes veto power to bring uncooperative Republicans in line on budget

 In this Dec. 2, 2020, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey answers a question during a news conference in Phoenix. A new voter-approved tax on high-earning Arizonans that will boost education spending is firmly in Gov. Doug Ducey's crosshairs, with the Republican vowing Friday, March 19, 2021, to see Proposition 208's new tax cancelled either through the courts or the GOP-controlled Legislature. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

In this Dec. 2, 2020, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey answers a question during a news conference in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Gov. Doug Ducey is putting a moratorium on all bills for the remainder of the legislative session until lawmakers send a budget to his desk. 

In a Friday afternoon announcement, Ducey vetoed all 22 pieces of legislation sitting on his desk, which range in topics from critical race theory to homelessness and said it wasn’t because they were bad policy. 

“Some are good policy, but with one month left until the end of the fiscal year, we need to focus first on passing a budget. That should be priority one. The other stuff can wait,” the governor said in a written statement.  

Lawmakers failed to pass a budget this week after introducing 11 budget bills in each chamber on May 24, and after not being able to negotiate to receive the minimum of 16 and 31 votes in the House and Senate, respectively, legislators opted to take two weeks off to come back on June 10 unless they have a reason to come back earlier. 

This could be that reason.  

CJ Karamargin, Ducey’s spokesman, said the governor’s veto was meant to spur lawmakers back to work, though he wasn’t sure it would work. 

“The governor has made clear what he’d like them to do  get back to work,” he said.  

He said, “courtesy calls were made” to tell lawmakers about the incoming vetoes after Ducey made the decision Thursday within a few hours of lawmakers adjourning until June 10. 

This isn’t the first time Ducey has had to come in with an ultimatum for the legislative branch. In 2018. He vetoed 10 Republican-sponsored bills in a move to force the hands of lawmakers to send him a budget reflecting an agreement with educators over the 20×2020 plan.  

Ducey’s predecessor, Jan Brewer, also used the same tactic. In 2013, she announced, also in May, she would not sign any measures until there was resolution of a new state budget. And in that case, the then-governor also wanted it to include her plan to expand Medicaid. 

Lawmakers were not happy then, with Andy Biggs, then the Senate president, calling it “extortion or blackmail.” 

“Once the budget passes, I’m willing to consider some of these other issues. But until then, I will not be signing any additional bills. Let’s focus on our jobs, get to work and pass the budget,” Ducey said Friday. 

But it’s not that simple that he can just undo a veto. The lawmakers have three options now: they can let these bills die and bring them back in a future session, they can override the veto with two-thirds support in both chambers (which hasn’t happened under Ducey’s tenure), or they would have to re-introduce the bills – likely as striker amendments  and vote on them again.  

“Everyone thinks they’re the 31st vote and everyone thinks they’re the 16th vote, but at the end of the day, (Ducey’s) the last vote,” said Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingdom, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.  

Regina Cobb

Regina Cobb

One of Cobb’s bills was among the ones Ducey vetoed. She was in the Legislature in 2018 when he placed a similar moratorium on sending bills to his desk.  

“That just means he’s losing patience,” she said.  

Cobb didn’t know yet what this will mean for budget negotiations or whether it will get some of the holdouts on board with passing it.  

“I don’t know where we’re going to end up at the end of the day, but a lot of members are taking vacations and thinking their personal time is more valuable, and that’s everybody’s personal feelings and they have to make the decision sometimes on whether or not being a legislator and being here at the Capitol is more important than getting that done,” Cobb said. “Our only job we have to do, that one job to do is passing that budget, and if we can’t get that done, we’re not doing our job.” 

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said he wasn’t sure if Ducey’s vetoes would result in a budget that was more palatable to the Democrats.

“These (Republican) members are looking to push even more extreme policies than (are in) the current budget,” he said. “Democrats have always been ready and willing to work, and that’s what we’ll keep doing,” he said. 

Among the vetoed bills is one of the last surviving criminal justice measures, Sen. Tony Navarrete’s SB1526 to require the Arizona Department of Corrections to provide sufficient free menstrual products to female inmates, ensure incarcerated pregnant women are not restrained and increase opportunities for most prisoners to see their minor children. Navarrete did not immediately return a call about the apparent death of the bill, versions of which a bipartisan group of lawmakers have tried to pass for years. 

A bill to bar government agencies from providing some kinds of diversity, equity and inclusion training, which passed the House and Senate to great acclaim from a conservative media sphere newly fascinated by “critical race theory,” also fell prey to Ducey’s veto. So did the annual list of technical amendments to legislation crafted by legislative staff — the grammatical fixes that usually pass near the end of the session.  

And another bipartisan measure requiring the Arizona Department of Housing to add a new senior homeless shelter in the West Valley went down, though it could be tied to the budget. Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, mourned the veto of several marijuana-related bills that Democrats and Republicans worked on together. 

“To veto these needed policies in an effort to strong-arm through your regressive tax plan is irresponsible. Arizonans deserve better from their leaders,” Friese tweeted. 

Ducey vetoed eight House bills. One, HB2792, would have required a voter to send a request before receiving an absentee ballot, effectively barring the establishment of an automatic vote by mail system like Washington and a few other states have. (The permanent early voting list, or the active early voting list as it is now called due to a controversial voting bill Ducey signed earlier this session, was exempted.) Another, HB2554, would have required political party challengers and representatives at polling places to be registered to vote in Arizona. Most of the other bills were uncontroversial and passed with large majorities, including two sponsored by Friese establishing regulations surrounding the legalization of marijuana in Arizona.  

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said Friday afternoon he had just heard about Ducey’s action and would have to look at the bills, although he said “at first glance there’s concern.” He said he thought lawmakers would “get back next week and continue plowing through. But we’ll see.”  

Democrats quickly panned the decision as a “temper tantrum” by a governor upset his tax plan can’t pass the Legislature, though Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, quipped that he wasn’t bothered because most of the bills were “trash policy” anyway.  

“There are 43 Democratic legislators who would have loved to have been included in the creation of a budget that truly supports all Arizonans, a budget that could have been passed by now,” Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, tweeted in response to Ducey. “I think your constituents would have preferred that to veiled threats.”  

Ducey’s 2018 veto message was much more to the point.  

“Please, send me a budget that gives teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020 and restores additional assistance. Our teachers have earned this raise. It’s time to get it done,” he said at the time.  

Republican leadership teams in the House and Senate could not be immediately reached, including Senate President Karen Fann who is supposedly on vacation in Hawaii.  

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.  

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