Gov. Doug Ducey is making it official, calling lawmakers into special session to finance the costs of fighting the current crop of wildland fires and the flood mitigation that will have to follow.
And press aide C.J. Karamargin said his boss wants them to approve $100 million when the session formally convenes on Tuesday to accomplish those goals.
The call comes as the three major fires burning in Arizona — the Telegraph, Mescal and Slate blazes — have so far consumed more than 170,000 acres. And none are yet fully contained.
At the same time, a host of smaller blazes have erupted, including the Cornville Fire which had scorched 1,200 acres and the Pinnacle Fire which was approaching 10,000 acres.
“The goal is to treat these fires in an urgent, bipartisan manner,” said Karamargin.
Complicating matters is that all this is about more than tamping down the fires.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, whose cabin was destroyed in the Telegraph Fire, said he was up on the property recently and was trying to water some of the trees that had survived.
“I let water under a tree and it just ran away,” the Mesa Republican told Capitol Media Services.
“There is a crust,” he explained. “It just runs off. It doesn’t even go in.”
That is a microcosm of what will occur when the summer rains finally come and the water and ash just runs off, potentially flooding homes and properties that are further down the mountain.
Karamargin acknowledged that coming up with an accurate cost of protecting against such flooding could prove a challenge.
“We’re going to rely on what experts say might be needed based on what has happened so far,” he said.
The call for the special session is occurring despite the fact that lawmakers already are at the Capitol, still struggling to reach a deal on a budget for the new fiscal year that begins in less than two weeks. But the governor and the leaders of both political parties say it makes sense to have some sort of separation between those controversial issues and what should be a fairly popular plan to finance fire and flood relief.
“It’s just focus,” said Bowers.
“Get it done,” he continued. “It should be quick and get out.”
House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, who has been involved in the bipartisan talks, said he believes the priority has to be the state budget.
“That will have profound impacts on our state agencies for the year,” he said. But Bolding said he concurs with creating a separate — and discrete — path for the issues of fire and flooding.
“During emergencies I think it’s important that we have one focus on how to provide support for those affected by the fire,” he said. “By having a concurrent session, what I think it allows us to do is have one singular focus.”
And everything else, Bolding said, can wait, including the debate over a Republican plan to create a single tax bracket and cut $1.9 billion in revenues.
“Flat tax and that conversation can get moved to the side while we focus on the statewide emergency,” he said.
But Bowers said there’s a more practical reason for separating out fire relief from everything else, including tax cuts and the $12.8 billion spending plan being advanced by Ducey and GOP leaders. He said it could limit the ability of lawmakers who want to hold the relief plan hostage.
“There will always be somebody saying, ‘I want this,’ ” Bowers said, complete with threats that if they don’t get what they want in the budget “I’m going to let the place burn down.”
The answer, he said, is to expose those who make such demands.
“We will illuminate those types of deals and, hopefully, people will come to repentance and change their ways,” he said.
There is another reason for a concurrent special session: It has a financial benefit for the lawmakers.
Under Arizona law, legislators collect full per diem allowance only for the first 120 days of the session. That came and went on May 10.
What happened after that is legislators who live in Maricopa County, who were getting $35 a day, saw their allowance cut to $10; out-county lawmakers get $20 a day, down from $60.
But a special session resets the calendar to Day 1, at least for the length of the session, restoring the full $35 and $60 allowances.