A Scottsdale Republican lawmaker is trying to stop the public from voting on a proposal that would allow “dreamers” who meet certain conditions to pay the same in-state tuition at public universities as other Arizona residents.
And if she can’t do that, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita figures that a new airing of the divisive issue will build public opposition to the measure ahead of the November 2022 vote.
But Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, told Capitol Media Services that all a new debate will do is unnecessarily stir things up. And she said that Ugenti-Rita would be better served if she would focus on her bid to be the Republican nominee for secretary of state.
“I don’t understand what her problem is here in the sense of why isn’t she concentrating on her race instead of trying to throw mud on her fellow colleagues,” Fann said.
Ugenti-Rita, for her part, is unapologetic.
“As a conservative Republican, dealing with and combating illegal immigration is a top issue for Arizonans,” she said. “And I’m addressing it.”
If Ugenti-Rita forces a new debate — particularly in an election year — it is likely to be as bitter and divisive as the one earlier this year that first put the issue on the ballot, with foes complaining about an invasion of “illegals.”
At the heart of the battle is Proposition 300, a 2006 ballot measure that denies various public benefit to those not in the country legally. That includes any form of subsidized tuition at universities and community colleges.
It was approved by a margin of 71-29%.
In the interim, however, the Obama administration began the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs. It allows people who came to this country illegally as children to remain and even seek work if they meet certain conditions.
Based on that, the Maricopa community college system and, later, the Arizona Board of Regents, agreed to let DACA recipients pay in-state tuition. But the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that is precluded by Proposition 300.
Now, the only way around that is to take the issue back to the ballot, as the Arizona Constitution forbids lawmakers from repealing anything first enacted by voters.
Ugenti-Rita told Capitol Media Services that the vote to refer it to the 2022 ballot never should have happened. That’s because most Republicans, who narrowly hold a majority in both chambers, were opposed.
Her proposal for the upcoming session, SCR 1004, asks the legislature declare that, after further consideration, it has determined that the issue should not have been referred to the ballot. And that would require the secretary of state, who prepares the ballot, to return the measure to the Senate.
Her chances of actually quashing the scheduled public vote are slim — if that.
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who proposed the repeal language, managed to line up 17 votes in the 30-member Senate, including himself and two other Republicans. And four Republicans lined up with Democrats in the 60-member House, providing 33 votes in support.
Ugenti-Rita, however, is undeterred, saying there needs to be a new debate.
“I am doing my job by taking seriously policy that I don’t believe is in the best interest of the state of Arizona,” she said, saying bringing the matter back for another vote will provide “an opportunity to reassess our choice.
She said none of this would be necessary had Fann exercised her powers as Senate president and kept the measure from ever reaching the floor.
Fann, who personally voted against sending the measure to the ballot, said it wasn’t simple.
She said she needed Boyer’s vote for the $12.8 billion GOP budget plan. And with there being only 16 Republicans in the chamber, Fann needed every Republican to be on board with the budget.
Boyer, for his part, said he never tied the two issues together.
Fann said she thought that would be the end of it, with House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, denying it a vote there. But Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, used a procedural maneuver to force a vote there.
Boyer told Capitol Media Services on Friday he’s not sorry for forcing the issue to provide an opportunity for these youngsters who are Arizona residents to attend college without having to pay a premium.
“Their stories are compelling,” he said. More to the point, Boyer said, this isn’t the same as adults who make a knowing decision to cross the border illegally.
“They were brought here through no fault of their own,” he said. “Just give them an opportunity to make a life for themselves.”
The do-over sought by Ugenti-Rita on the question is likely to result in a repeat of the rhetoric from the debate earlier this year.
“Americans should not have to pay for non-American citizens — illegals — giving them favored status for their trespass and invasion into America,” complained Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction. Fillmore said this amounts to “dollars stolen by our taxes that we pay in this state for people who are not of this country, that are not deserving.”
Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, sought to put that into dollars and cents. He said the difference between resident tuition and what is charge to out-of-state students — the amount that those not here legally can pay to attend — is about $24,000 a year.
“Why should a non-U.S. citizen get that benefit?” Chaplik asked, saying the price tag could run into “potentially hundreds of millions of dollars over the coming years to subsidize the cost of college for people who aren’t even American citizens.”
But Udall said it is in the long-term interest of the state to ensure that more children who have gone to Arizona high schools have the chance to get a higher education. She said the state’s economy is on the upswing.
“But without an increasing number of college graduates, these gains cannot hold,” Udall said.
Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, agreed.
“We have high-tech jobs that are coming here,” he told colleagues.
“We need a trained and educated labor force for these multi-billion dollafir industries that are flocking to the state,” Cook continued. “And where are we going to find them?”
Clarification: A previous version of this story said Sen. Paul Boyer demanded a vote on his tuition measure for dreamers as a condition for his support on the budget, but Boyer says he did not make the demand as reported.