Saying the current fires are just the beginning of problems, Gov. Doug Ducey on June 10 called for a special legislative session to begin next week.
“It’s clear that we still have a lot more to do,” the governor said after taking a helicopter tour over the fires – and charred remains – of the Telegraph and Mescal fires.
“The response won’t end when the fires are put out,” he continued. “When this year’s monsoon rains come, these burned areas are prone to landslides, mudslides and flooding, which pose another threat to our communities.”
Ducey’s move comes one day after he declared a state of emergency. That frees up $200,000 for each blaze using resources under his control.
But allocating larger amounts of money, especially for future flood mitigation, requires legislative approval.
A special session technically isn’t required. State lawmakers already are at the Capitol – though they shouldn’t be this late in the year – trying to work out a deal on a spending and tax-cut plan for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.
The governor essentially acknowledged that isn’t going so well. So this, in some ways, becomes a temporary diversion.
“We can put the budget aside for a few moments and focus on Gila County, focus on this issue,” he said. “So it’s a way to just stop all the other noise that is necessary in any legislative session to get big things done and to focus on the fire and the people of Gila County.”
Yet Ducey said he has no idea how much money he wants lawmakers to approve.
“That’s what the special session is for,” he said, though he later said it could run into the “tens of millions of dollars.”
“That’s something we’re going to sit down in a bipartisan way with the leaders of the chambers and figure that out,” Ducey said. “This should be a win for Arizona.”
Ducey was in Globe to be briefed on the status of the Telegraph Fire, which as of June 10 had burned more than 85,000 acres so far and is just 40% contained, and the nearby Mescal Fire which, at 72,250 acres, is 64% contained.
“As we move forward over the next couple of days, the weather’s a big concern of ours,” said David Bales, incident commander of the Telegraph Fire.
“We all know that wind helped push it up Highway 60,” he said. “And the next few days, we’re looking at high pressure, which is pretty risky for our firefighters.”
Globe still remains at risk. And there’s also the possibility that the two blazes could merge as their boundaries are just 10 miles apart.
The fire has become personal for at least two lawmakers.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, who suggested the special session, already lost a family cabin in the Telegraph Fire. And Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, pointing to the smoke in the distance, said his cattle ranch reaches from the top of the Pinal Mountains right to the Globe city limits.
And Bowers warned that even when the fires are contained and extinguished, some real problems remain in the form of flooding.
“With what’s happened up on the mountains, it’s going to be a bad, bad summer if we get a heavy monsoon – which we need,” he said.
While Ducey hopes for quick approval of whatever funding he seeks without the distraction of the budget, some Democrats are not sure it’s possible to separate the issues.
In a Twitter post June 10, Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, pointed out that a key element of the proposal by the governor and Republican legislative leaders is to create a flat income tax rate.
“A flat tax would remove $2 billion in state revenue (a year) over the next 10 years, wiping out the resources we need to fight these types of wildfires and help the people and communities recover from the devastation,” he wrote.
Ducey brushed aside the concern.
“Part of the reason we’re able to call this state of emergency, to call this special session, to move hundreds of thousands if not tens of millions of dollars forward is because the state is in such a positive cash position,” the governor said. “We’re sitting on, depending on whose number you look to, about a $4 billion surplus in our state.”