‘Razor-thin’ GOP majority cracks, budget falters

‘Razor-thin’ GOP majority cracks, budget falters

Harris, budget, Senate, House, Hobbs, Democrats, Republicans
While GOP lawmakers portrayed Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs as the villain in their attempt to pass a budget, their true nemesis sat within their own ranks. Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, voted against her caucus’ budget proposal in the House on Feb. 6, appearing to keep her promise to withhold her vote on any legislation to protest the 2022 election.

Update: Adds information about how the House tried for a third reading of the budget on Feb. 9 and adds quotes from Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, on why she voted against her caucus’ budget proposal.

While Republican lawmakers cast Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs as the villain in their quest to pass a budget, it turns out their true nemesis sat within their own ranks, exposing the fragility of a one-member majority.

When Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, voted against her caucus’ budget proposal Feb. 6 in the House to torpedo Republican efforts to pass a budget with no new spending, she appeared to keep her word on a pledge to withhold her vote on any legislation to protest the 2022 election – somewhat.

Harris has voted for several items in her various committee assignments. Her statement after the November 2022 election pledging to withhold her vote didn’t clarify she’d only do it on the House floor. She also voted against waiving the aggregate expenditure limit (AEL) on Feb. 7, after supporting the measure earlier in the House Education Committee.

The House intended to try a third reading of the budget again on Feb. 9. Harris and Speaker of the House Ben Toma, R-Peoria, met in the Speaker’s office prior to the start of the House floor session and both didn’t return to the House floor for nearly 30 minutes, causing a delay in House business. Upon returning, the House skipped the third reading and adjourned, meaning any budget action will have to wait until next week.

Toma was not present on the floor to provide comment after the House adjourned on Feb. 9. Later that afternoon, Harris provided a statement explaining her vote against the budget on Twitter and said she won’t vote for the continuation budget and prefers a budget that cuts spending.

Harris cited recent tax revenue data and said it far outpaces the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

“The Average Arizona Household is over-paying by $1,250 per year,” Harris wrote in the statement. “If we right sized the budget to match economic growth, each of these 2.7 million households (in Arizona according to U.S. Census data) would save an average of $2,023 annually.”

Harris argued the state’s tax revenue in 2022 should have been $11.3 billion rather than $16.7 billion to match worker GDP growth.

“I CAN NOT in good faith move forward with a budget that continues to harm the working families of Arizona,” Harris wrote in the statement. “I will reject this budget until we right size and restore it to a level that is commensurate with our economic growth. We need to cut the budget and restore our fiscal house.”

She also responded to a Facebook commentor Feb. 7, and said “it was bigger than obvious” that Democrat Hobbs would veto the continuation budget proposal.

But political consultants said that was entirely the point of attempting to send Hobbs an unprecedently fast budget proposal.

“They were attempting to do something that really hadn’t been done in the 30 years that I’ve been around this place,” said Stan Barnes, a former legislator and the founder of lobbying firm Copper State Consulting Group. “Trying to put up a budget like this in a partisan matter without any input from the governor just to prove a point – as worthy as that might’ve been – they ended up proving a different point.”

Barnes said the point that was proven was the “dysfunction” of the majority in the House and Harris’ vote shocked Republican leadership. The sponsor of the House’s budget bills, Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said during the vote that he expected it to pass on party lines.

Toma said on Feb. 6 that House Republicans would continue to try getting 31 members to vote on the continuation budget but didn’t directly comment on what it would take for Harris to join them. Livingston was confident on Feb. 7 that Republicans would get the budget to Hobbs.

“I think the budget that we’re trying to send to the governor is a really good budget and most years, any governor would be happy to sign it. I think this year, for political reasons only, she probably won’t,” Livingston said. “We’ll send it to her. We’ll get it done.”

That mission faces a major roadblock if Harris continues to vote against all legislation heard on the floor, and Democrats have indicated they’re not willing to consider a continuation budget.

Democratic consultant and former legislator Chad Campbell said Republicans should seek a bipartisan solution and work with Democrats to pass something both parties can agree on.

“Nobody is serious on the Republican side about actually trying to come up with a compromise budget that’s bipartisan and actually addresses the needs of the state,” Campbell said.

GOP consultant Chuck Coughlin said Toma is going to have to find who the “willing coalition” of Republicans are that will work on a budget for Hobbs to sign and start bipartisan negotiations.

“This was the caucuses’ way of starting the process to get to an eventual budget. It’s just truncated now, and part of the Republican caucus is going to identify itself as not willing to negotiate,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin also pointed out that one member going against the caucus isn’t new, and former Sen. Paul Boyer, a Republican, often found himself in that position the last few years of his term. Boyer was ostracized by the GOP and fellow Senate Republicans when he voted against holding the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in contempt and didn’t cooperate with the Senate’s plan to audit the 2020 general election results.

Boyer said being in that position of going against the caucus with a deciding vote is difficult and weighed heavily on his shoulders, but it all came down to trying to craft the best policy for the state.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” Boyer said. “I always voted early though because I wanted people to know where I stood.”

Harris’ case appears to be different. She’s called for a new election to be held and said the 2022 election was “fraudulent.” Her demand will likely never be met, and she has voted against policies that she agreed with in committee.

Boyer said he concluded later in his legislative service that leadership wasn’t always right, and he wouldn’t just vote for whatever was being proposed. He said he believed the key to overcoming a situation like one that he was in or that Harris is in involves constant communication from the speaker. The one who exemplified this best during his tenure was Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who served as House speaker for one term.

“I would be doing as much member-management with her – probably more than any other member at this point if it were me,” Boyer said. “I’ve seen a lot of different leaders and not many of them were terribly communicative except for J.D. and that went a long way for me … Anybody would love to at least be listened to.”

Barnes echoed Boyer and said he sympathizes with Toma and House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City.

“It’s a problem that other leaders have confronted in the past, but this is particularly acute because of the razor-thin majorities and the accension of a Democratic governor in Katie Hobbs who is a former legislator and understands the dynamics and how to leverage those dynamics,” Barnes said.

Barnes said this problem for leadership has historically been dealt with by removing a member from committee assignments or something “petty” like taking away a member’s parking spot, but that luxury is gone with a one-member majority.

“Every person has a veto in the Republican House and the Republican Senate,” Barnes said. “Rep. Harris realizes the majority needs her just as much as she needs them.”