House Republicans pushed through the plan to sharply cut taxes on the rich Thursday — but only after changing the rules to limit debate and objections by Democrats.
The approval, on a party-line vote, came after the 31 Republicans — all present for the first time in days — lined up the votes to limit discussion to no more than 30 minutes. And the rule was crafted in a way to cut off comments at that point, even if all the amendments to any bill had not even been explained.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, acknowledged that the change effectively was payback for Democrats refusing to show up for debate on Tuesday when the Republicans had finally lined up the votes among their own caucus to enact $1.3 billion — and possibly $1.8 billion — in permanent tax cuts and the $12.8 billion spending plan. That left the House without a quorum as four Republicans were away from the Capitol.
“It is clear, was clear then, by the absence of an entire caucus, and by actions prior and currently today, that procedural obstruction and delay have been instituted in lieu of civility,” he said. Bowers said the time limits will still allow for discussion “but also allow us to get out in an expedited fashion.”
But Democrats said Republicans have no one but themselves to blame for the fact that legislature is now up against a deadline to enact a new spending plan for the fiscal year that begins in less than a week.
Rep. Charlene Ferandez, D-Yuma, pointed out that Republican leaders brought lawmakers to the Capitol for 26 days where there was absolutely no legislative business done while they tried to line up the votes among their own caucus. She said that’s because they chose not to involve Democrats in budget negotiations or include their priorities in the plan.
There always has been a limit of three minutes on the ability of legislators to explain their votes. But there has never been an overall cap on the amount of time to discuss specific amendments.
Now, once the clock hits 30 minutes, people still can offer amendments. But there just can’t be any discussion of any of those amendments or to ask questions of proponents.
But Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, who serves as speaker pro-tem, said there is a precedent of sorts for the new rules. He pointed out the U.S. House has a process where the time for debate on each bill is established by that chamber’s Rules Committee.
With the new rules in place, Republicans approved SB 1828. With the Senate already having approved, that sends the plan to Gov. Doug Ducey.
The legislation creates a flat 2.5% personal income tax rate. And a separate 4.5% cap on all income taxes protect the most wealthy — those earning more than $500,000 a year — from the effects of a voter-approved 3.5% surcharge to fund public education by effectively limiting their other income taxes to just 1%.
“This budget has a tax cut for all,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. But Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said that’s ignoring a crucial fact: It is structured so that the richest get more than a proportionate share of the benefits.
“The benefit to somebody at the bottom rung, somebody who makes less than $21,000 in the state of Arizona, is $3,” she said. By contrast, the tax cut for someone at the $500,000 income level is $30,000.
And for the super rich, Powers Hannley said, those in the $5 million range will save $300,000 each and every year going forward.
“There it is, the further death of the middle class by rewarding the ultra-wealthy,” said Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale
But Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said he sees the issue — and the structure of the tax cut — through a different lens.
“When it comes to the middle class tax policy, whether the minority party wants to admit it or not, reflects upon jobs and the economy in the state of Arizona,” he said. “And tax policy is a direct reflection on how many people in the state of Arizona have jobs that want jobs.”
Fernandez derided that as “trickle-down economics.”