In starting Memorial Day weekend by vetoing every bill on his desk, Gov. Doug Ducey aimed to prod reluctant lawmakers to end their vacation and return to pass his tax cut and budget.
Instead, as the clock ticks down to the end of the fiscal year and the ultimate deadline to pass a budget, lawmakers remain on recess, no closer to passing a budget than they were last week. But now, many of them are furious at the governor as well.
“I would say it’s fair to say that people are frustrated, and I’m not sure that making them frustrated is going to be more helpful to getting the budget done,” said House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria. “By definition, a budget requires the cooperation of 31.”
Both the House and Senate are adjourned until June 10 after failing last week to reach a compromise that would guarantee every Republican would vote for the $12.8 billion spending plan crafted by Ducey and legislative leaders. Democrats universally oppose the budget because of a switch to a single income tax rate that would cost $3 billion over the next three years and $1.9 billion annually after that, and GOP leaders can’t afford to lose a single Republican in the House or Senate.
In response, Ducey vetoed 22 bills in an attempt to force lawmakers to agree on a budget and announced he won’t sign any more bills until they do. His actions were widely panned by lawmakers from both parties, with some mourning bills they supported that may never become law now and others worrying that the vetoes will prolong the budget impasse.
Toma said “all options are on the table,” including possibly trying to override some of Ducey’s vetoes or revive vetoed bills in another way, and he isn’t sure if Ducey’s actions will force lawmakers to reach a deal sooner.
It’s possible the House will reconvene Monday, he said, but that’s made difficult because the House has to coordinate with the Senate and because multiple lawmakers are traveling. While legislators can vote via Zoom, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to take part if they were, for example, on an airplane during a vote.
House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, worried the vetoes could lead Republicans to embrace a compromise budget that is even worse from their point of view than the current proposal.
“These (Republican) members are looking to push even more extreme policies than (are in) the current budget,” Bolding said. “Democrats have always been ready and willing to work, and that’s what we’ll keep doing.”
Reps. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, and Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, both of whom have called for a leaner budget than the current proposal, singled out Ducey’s vetoes of bills banning certain types of diversity training for government employees and barring mailing ballots to voters who don’t request them.
During an interview on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, Finchem hinted he might support an ongoing effort by some conservatives to recall Ducey, who he called a “petty dictator.”
“This is like a man-child temper tantrum,” Finchem said. “…He vetoed a bill that would have prohibited the teaching of critical race theory to government employees. That is absolutely outrageous. Then we go on to a budget that’s got so much pork in it you’d think we’re going to a barbecue.”
Finchem found an ally in former President Trump, who put out a statement making the same points.
“Incredible to see that RINO Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona just vetoed a bill that would have outlawed Critical Race Theory training for State employees, and another that would have banned the mailing of ballots to citizens who never requested them,” Trump said. “He did this under the guise of passing a budget. For those of you who think Doug Ducey is good for Arizona, you are wrong.”
Meanwhile, Democrats were particularly unhappy with Ducey’s veto of SB1526, which would have established new regulations mandating gentler treatment of pregnant women in prison and required the state to provide incarcerated women with ample feminine hygiene products. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona called it “shameful,” while Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, called it an “unjust decision.”
Bill sponsor Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, said the veto shows Ducey is focused on appeasing his base and rich pals, not addressing ongoing failures in the state’s correctional system. And he speculated that Ducey will only have a harder time passing a budget.
“He’s doing more of a performance than he is governing, and his temper tantrum will only continue to divide his Republican colleagues,” Navarrete said.
Also among the casualties of Ducey’s veto pen were two bills sponsored by Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, and passed with broad bipartisan support to regulate the new recreational marijuana industry. Friese said he was disappointed by Ducey’s vetoes and hoped the bills could be revived somehow before the end of the session.
“It’s very important for us to regulate the new adult use industry, and of course we have that higher hurdle to regulate, but I think we achieved that,” Friese said. “The industry would be benefitted by these. The Arizona adult user would be benefitted by these bills. … There are certainly ways to get them back to the governor’s desk. I hope we can accomplish that.”
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said the Senate appropriations chairman assured her one of her outstanding bills would be added to a budget bill. To buy Townsend’s vote on the budget, House and Senate leaders agreed to amend versions of many of her election bills into a single bill that passed the House last week, but Ducey’s announced moratorium puts the fate of her bill and others in question.
Instead of trying to add language from vetoed bills to budget legislation, lawmakers should get the rules committee to authorize late introductions and run the bills again, said Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge. It’s the cleanest and least confrontational way to revive the bills, he said, and it’s what lawmakers did when Ducey and former Gov. Jan Brewer imposed bill moratoriums in previous years.
Shope said he’s not offended by the governor’s vetoes and doesn’t think others should be. It’s just a negotiating tool, he said.
“Anybody who’s piping mad about it just really needs to take a deep breath and realize that it has happened before,” Shope said. “Maybe it hasn’t happened to them, or one of their bills, but it has happened and that’s the nature of the beast down there.”