Democrats almost had a voice in budget process, but Republicans didn’t hear them

Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing this year – the minority party in Arizona had a rare opportunity to have some say in the budget process, thanks to the initial resistance of some GOP lawmakers to a borrowing plan for public universities.

Gov. Doug Ducey
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

In the end, Gov. Doug Ducey got his $1 billion bonding capacity for higher education, and Democrats got what they routinely get: Left behind.

Republicans say Democrats overplayed their hand. Ducey and GOP leaders were willing to talk, but Democrats asked for too much and were too firmly entrenched in their request to make negotiating a reality.

Democrats charged that Republicans, like always in recent years, have no interest in ever working across the aisle, no matter the offer, even on issues that are obvious candidates for bipartisan support.

In this case, a plan to let Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University borrow up to $1 billion over the next 25 years was initially rebuffed by almost all Republican senators and representatives. They were wary of allowing the state to borrow that much money, and of a mechanism to divert sales taxes from state coffers to finance the borrowing plan.

Knowing the bonding plan, Ducey’s signature proposal, lacked enough Republican support in both the House and Senate to pass without Democratic votes, minority leadership in each chamber united their members. Democrats would unilaterally oppose the bonding plan, preventing Ducey from proclaiming a bipartisan victory when, as in past years, a single Democrat or two broke ranks and voted for a bill or budget.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“What you saw happen was the Democrats stuck together with a unified request,” said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix. “If you asked every individual Democrat, they would’ve told you the same answer: Teacher raises and TANF.” TANF is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides short-term cash assistance to families.

The Democrats’ demands, in exchange for their vote on bonding, was in line with their policy priorities for the session. The minority party had blasted the governor for his initial proposal of a teacher pay raise – 2 percent phased in over five years – as wholly inadequate. And they had spent the better part of two years criticizing Ducey for signing into law cuts to TANF in 2015.

Hobbs acknowledged that their initial request was more than Republicans were willing to pay for. A 4 percent teacher raise, whether it was in one year or phased in over two, would have added more than $100 million in spending.

“So for them it was less expensive to buy off Republicans individually,” Hobbs said.

Barry Aarons
Barry Aarons

Longtime Capitol lobbyist Barry Aarons said the request was a part of what undercut Democrats’ efforts to be taken seriously in a negotiation.

“I don’t think the Democrats gave themselves enough opportunity to find some wins for themselves, and that’s because they limited their offer to some things that were non-starters to begin with,” Aarons said.

Experience might have something to do with it, Aarons said. Not since Rose Mofford occupied the Governor’s Office have Democrats been given a chance to take part in the budget, he said, with the exception of the passage of Medicaid expansion in 2013.

Republicans began the trend of passing Republican-only budget under former Gov. Fife Symington, who served from 1991 to 1997, according to Aarons.

“I think that is a result of years and years in the desert,” Aarons said. “Basically when it came to negotiating, I think they had not had the experience of going through a legitimate negotiation. Now whether it would’ve come to pass regardless, I don’t know.”

Several Democratic lawmakers said the teachers’ raise and TANF was just an offer, not a demand.

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios
House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

“If you’re going to meet someone to negotiate, you need a starting point. And it was simply a starting point,” said House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix. “That was my opening offer to the governor.“

Rios said it was “naive” for critics to say the minority party overplayed their hand when the governor never seriously considered working with Democrats. A meeting between Rios and Ducey was cordial, though brief, she said. Negotiating was never on the table, so there was never an opportunity to give Ducey room to counter, she added.

Rather than work across the aisle, Ducey ultimately mustered enough support from Republicans to get the bill through. To some Republicans, that was, as it often is, always the goal.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“I wanted desperately to deliver 16 Republican votes on the university bonding,” said Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. Delivering 16 Republican votes on the university bonding was a very high priority for him personally, he said.

“And I obviously was extremely pleased when we were able to accomplish that,” Yarbrough said.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, said it’s understandable for Republicans to desire to work within their own party. What bothers Contreras is the lack of any consideration of ever working with Democrats.

“It comes down to the unwillingness of the governor to even think about wanting to work with us as Democrats as a whole,” Contreras said. “He chose to go around and make his deals like everyone knows with numerous Republicans before even talking with us about what we were asking.”

Aarons said “there is probably a better than even chance that . . .  Republicans would have said screw it, we’re not going to do this with you,” no matter what Democrats had offered.

Daniel Scarpinato, a Ducey spokesman, did not dispute that the meeting wasn’t a negotiation of any sort, but he did dispute the reason why.

“I wouldn’t even characterize it as negotiations because they were not willing to negotiate. They provided some demands of what they would need, and were unwilling to move at all,” Scarpinato said. “And the problem with that is, what they wanted on TANF, there were not 16 and 31 for that under any circumstance. It was just really something that wasn’t even possible to achieve.”

As for the Democrats’ proposal to increase the teacher pay hike, “we certainly were open to ways to improve that, but certainly you need to be able to pay for these things,” Scarpinato said.

Yarbrough said a larger raise in the budget also would’ve made it more difficult to secure enough Republicans, along with 13 Democrats in the Senate, to approve a spending plan.

“It’s hard to see how that would’ve worked,” Yarbrough added. “The higher teacher raise, the challenge there is, show me the money… That’s a big number. What would we have done? How would we have paid for that. They never came to me, because that would have been my question.”

Scarpinato said Democrats overplayed their hand, and as the final votes made clear, weren’t negotiating in good faith because Democrats were negotiating against issues that they inherently supported. For example, when it became clear that the university bonding plan would pass with or without the help of Senate Democrats, eight of the 13 Democrats in the chamber voted for it.

Had Democrats simply signaled their support for a bill they liked all along, the university bonding could have been sent to the governor’s desk much sooner, and Ducey wouldn’t have had to make deals with individual Republicans – deals that Democrats aren’t happy about, Scarpinato noted.

“We could have passed bonding sooner, and there’s probably some stuff that ended up in the budget that Democrats don’t like that may not have ended up in there had they just supported bonding from the onset,” he said.

Perhaps if Democrats had offered more in exchange for their votes on bonding, Aarons said, the session would’ve played out differently. Decades ago, Republicans frequently approached Democrats to get their help to pass budgets. In the Senate, it was then-Minority Leader Alfredo Gutierrez’s role to barter with the GOP for votes.

Gutierrez would give Republicans a long list of demands, enough to “choke a horse,” Aarons said, but it gave Republicans ample room to trade with Democrats and approve a coalition budget.

This session, Democrats “didn’t put enough stuff on the table, so they didn’t have enough negotiating room,” Aarons said.

“When you’re negotiating for something you don’t come with one thing. You come with a whole pot full of stuff . . . You give the other side an opportunity to go along with you, and then you’re able to declare victory.”

Governor gets nearly all he wanted in 2017 legislative session

Gov. Doug Ducey
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The governor accomplished nearly all of his legislative goals this session, from various steps related to education to a measure that restores benefits to some needy families.

Most of Gov. Doug Ducey’s priorities made it into the state’s fiscal year 2018 budget.

He wanted a 0.4 percent teacher pay raise for the next five years, which was modified into a 2 percent raise over two years. He wanted a $38 million results-based funding program that rewarded schools with high test scores. He asked for money for an all-day kindergarten program for low-income schools. And he wanted state dollars to match a federal fund to bring broadband to rural schools.

Only one education measure was left unfunded in the FY2018 budget: a $1,000 bonus for teachers who work at low-income schools. That money instead went toward teacher raises.

The biggest, and really only, hurdle he met with the Arizona Legislature this year, a university bonding plan, saw the most changes before it was palatable to conservatives.

Ducey proposed a bonding plan that would allow universities to keep the sales taxes they ordinarily would have paid to the state, then put that money toward a 30-year, $1 billion bond to construct new buildings and maintain old ones.

The approved version of the bonding plan instead uses $27 million annually, adjusted for inflation, appropriated by the Legislature annually for 25 years.

The tax cut he proposed, which would have indexed the personal income tax exemption to inflation, was increased by the Legislature.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said the session included a “record investment” in higher education and several new programs for K-12, while maintaining a balanced budget.

“The governor really wanted to zero in this session and this budget on education, not only K-12 but also higher education. So he feels like, from that standpoint, this was a real success,” Scarpinato said.

Several of the bills he pushed made it through the Legislature as the session was winding down.

HB2372 restores Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to 24 months, waives professional license fees for people in poverty and adds various strings to assistance programs.

The policy was the last bill the Arizona Senate voted on before ending the legislative session and leaving the Capitol.

HB2369, which gets rid of several state boards and commissions, was approved by the Senate on May 9, with the House concurring on May 10. A central part of the initial bill, a repeal of the State Parks Board, was stripped off the bill in the House after the Parks Department’s director, Sue Black, ran into trouble for mistreating employees earlier this year.

Scarpinato said the Governor’s Office will always be looking for ways to reform boards and commissions. As for whether Ducey would try to get rid of the Parks Board again, as he has tried to for the past two sessions, Scarpinato said the governor will be reviewing his agenda over the next six months to prepare for the 2018 session.

Another Ducey-led effort, a bill making civil suits against people who break into cars to rescue children or pets illegal, HB2494, was given final approval on May 10.

Other Ducey priorities made it through the Legislature quicker.

HB2268, which sets up requirements for rape kits going forward so as to avoid the current backlog of untested kits, was signed in March.

HB2205, which eliminates the Advisory Health Council and the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission and repeals a statute on the Prostate Cancer Task Force, was signed in April.

New session, old story – cities, counties fend off Legislature’s reach

Arizona cities and counties staved off a major threat to tax revenues in the 2017 legislative session as they saw the number of measures hostile to them continue to grow.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns and the Arizona Association of Counties fended off a bonding plan that would have allowed the state’s three public universities to keep the sales taxes they ordinarily would have paid to the state, cities and counties. The money would then be used to borrow $1 billion for construction and building maintenance.

The bonding plan would have cost local governments $7 million in its first year. But, while the bonding was touted as a 30-year plan, the mechanism didn’t have an expiration date and would have grown annually, and it would have thrown the state’s taxing system for a loop.

Dodging the sales tax recapture was a big win for local governments, said Jen Marson, director of the Arizona Association of Counties.

“That would have been so much money over the course of 30 years,” Marson said.

Ken Strobeck
Ken Strobeck

In an April interview on the bonding plan, League of Arizona Cities and Towns Executive Director Ken Strobeck said he saw it as a first step toward diminishing the transaction privilege tax system. If universities get to keep the sales taxes they would pay, other governmental bodies will want the same treatment, he said.

The league and the mayors of several towns railed against the plan, saying it pitted universities against cities. They also noted that local governments took on more financial burdens after numerous cost-shifts from the state throughout the Great Recession.

The bonding plan was amended to be a $27 million annual appropriation for 25 years instead of a sales tax recapture idea.

Cities and towns didn’t have much time to celebrate that win, though.

Lawmakers resurrected a plan in the waning hours of budget negotiations to regulate the dates of citywide elections that increase taxes. SB1152 requires municipal tax increase elections be held in November of even-number years. Charter cities have maintained the right to set their own election dates, which the courts affirmed. But lawmakers admitted they wanted a second crack at a court ruling, saying they expected to be sued over SB1152.

Patrice Kraus
Patrice Kraus

“That one is probably our biggest concern,” said Patrice Kraus, the league’s lobbyist.

Tension existed for years as the Legislature has sought to clamp down on municipalities it sees as rogues.

In a red state like Arizona, cities often tried to enact progressive laws that wouldn’t pass muster at the state level. Those measures then led to backlash from state lawmakers.

Last year, Arizona cities and towns decried a new law that jeopardized state-shared revenues if local governments enacted measures that contradicted state law.

The past two years saw state preemption laws that banned plastic bags and local regulations of puppy mills, among numerous others.

Despite the discord that surfaced from the bonding plan and new election regulations, relations between local governments and the Legislature weren’t as strained as in previous years.

“This was a year of negotiation for us,” Kraus said.

New leadership in both chambers and a host of new freshman lawmakers meant a better position for cities, Kraus said.

New House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, “ran a smoother ship” than his predecessor, and the league worked with a lot of lawmakers that it hadn’t in the past, she said.

The more congenial relationship meant the league found wins on pension and redevelopment incentive modifications, Kraus said.

Jen Marson
Jen Marson

Still, the state hasn’t picked up the costs it shifted to counties throughout the recession, a point of financial stress particularly for smaller counties, Marson said.

Counties are still paying the state for some services from the Department of Revenue and Juvenile Corrections, while they struggle to pay for basics like payroll at the local level, Marson said.

Marson said the counties were hoping that as the economy recovered, the cost shifts would be reversed, but they’re “taking a lot longer to reverse than they did to institute.”

Another area that suffered as the state slashed its costs: road funds. But this year’s budget put $30 million back into the Highway User Revenue Fund after lawmakers clamored for money to bring home to their counties to help fix roads.

Marson said the HURF monies still aren’t fully restored and numerous cost shifts haven’t been reversed, but she noted there were no new state impacts to counties’ budgets passed this legislative session.

“We consider that a win,” she said.

Reporter Lauren Marshall contributed to this story.

University bonding plan is a big investment in Arizona’s future


“The housing market is collapsing around us.”

Everyone remembers hearing those words in the late 2000s. Arizona was at the epicenter of an economic earthquake. Our state’s unemployment rate stood at 4.4 percent in December 2007. By December 2009, it had swollen to 11.2 percent.

The state was faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. Meeting payroll. Keeping the lights on. In fact, even when I took office in January 2015, our state was still facing a more than $1 billion budget shortfall.

Today, thanks to some tough decisions, the determination of Arizona workers and employers, and a growing economy, things look much brighter. We’ll have a $21 million structural balance in fiscal year 2018 and a Rainy Day Fund balance of $463 million. And our credit ratings have improved as a result. A major part of that is due to the state paying down more than $400 million of debt.

Businesses and job creators are expanding, and putting Arizonans back to work. Apple, Caterpillar, Raytheon, Houzz, Intel, Dot Foods – just to name a few. These jobs stretch outside of Maricopa County. Finally, Southern Arizona and rural Arizona are also seeing relief.

Through it all, Arizona’s universities continued to shine. Arizona State University was named the most innovative university in the country two years running, beating out MIT. University of Arizona continues to lead in optics research and technology. And Northern Arizona University consistently produces some of the best teachers in the nation.

With the state’s finances finally in order, we’re proudly taking the opportunity that this turnaround gave us to invest in the future of our state. And that starts with education.

The budget I signed this week makes significant new investments in K-12 education, with a focus on teacher salaries, making our best schools available to more students and providing added resources in low-income areas to help close the achievement gap.

But what rightly attracted the most dialogue this legislative session was our landmark bonding plan for Arizona’s universities – a 25-year roadmap that will keep our universities on the cutting-edge well into the future.

With a partnership between the state and the universities, this plan increases the bonding authority for our three largest public universities, allowing them to direct approximately $1 billion toward research infrastructure like laboratories and maintenance.

Clearly, Arizona already has three of the best public universities in the United States. And this increased financing authority empowers ASU, UofA, and NAU to stay competitive with peer institutions across the country.

This renewed investment means universities will be more competitive attracting research dollars and top tier faculty. It frees up dollars for student programs that otherwise would have gone toward deferred maintenance. And, at the end of the day, these are major construction projects that are estimated to create thousands of jobs in our local communities.

How significant is this plan? ASU President Michael Crow said it is “ushering in a new wave of support for higher education.” NAU President Rita Cheng said the future of her university “shines bright from this plan.” “Arizona’s commitment to higher education will define its future,” she added. I couldn’t agree more.

Not only did this plan earn support from all three universities, the Arizona Board of Regents, and the business community, I’m proud that it passed the Senate on a bipartisan 23-7 vote. That’s proof that good things can happen when we work together.

This is what happens when we have strong finances. We have money to invest. After all, this the first time in a long time that the State of Arizona is having a conversation about adding new money to education, and it explains why we’re calling this the “Education Budget” – because teachers, students, schools and our universities are easily the biggest winners of this year’s budget.

That’s good news for education, for our economy, and for all of us who care about building a strong future for the state we love.

Doug Ducey is the governor of the State of Arizona            

Wrap up with Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey faced a new conundrum this legislative session: Where to best spend available state dollars.

In the end, Ducey got nearly everything he wanted – slightly more money for teachers, a huge university bonding plan and several controversial education programs like universal vouchers and performance funding for schools.

He also flirted with the idea of negotiating with Democrats on a budget plan when Republicans initially didn’t line up to support his initiatives, though the GOP ranks eventually coalesced around his spending priorities after some pot-sweeteners came into the mix.

You seem to have struck a “compassionate conservatism” tone this year. Where is that coming from? And how much of it plays into next year’s election? What’s the impetus?

Right at the beginning, we talked about opportunity for all. And I think many of our most affluent citizens have enjoyed and experienced a lot of opportunity. So, I’m always thinking: How do we help those that are the most vulnerable, those that are on the first rung of the economic ladder, those that are in a school where they’re not learning what they should be learning? So, I think the theme has been consistent. It’s just we’re in a different position today. Three years ago, we didn’t have any money in the state. We had a one billion dollar deficit.

Was it easier to cut spending or add spending?

When you don’t have any money, the decisions are difficult, but clearer. When there are available dollars, there’s competing interests as to what people would like to do.

You signed a couple bills that led to referenda. Does that mean those were bad bills? Do you intend to defend them if they come to the ballot?

Let’s see what comes to the ballot. I think election season can be way too long. Whenever you sign a bill or veto a bill, some people are happy, some people are upset. I’d rather see what’s in front of us before I make comments on that. People are certainly welcome to participate in the constitutional process and bring things to the ballot and participate in the election cycle.

This year’s budget focused on education. Do you think the state is doing enough to fund and support education? And if not, what would enough look like?

I think the state needs to do more on education. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past two years… I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction. We also have some evidence that we’re getting results and outcomes… This is a state responsibility. This is a primary focus of this administration. It’s something the governor can lead on and it’s something we intend to do more of.

You’ve been called the education governor. What do you think of that moniker?

I wake up every day and think about education. My campaign was built on bringing our economy back and improving K-12 education and focusing on the reputation of the state. This is never going to be a box on our administration’s agenda that you can check off and move on from.

Your national profile also continues to grow, with some prominent conservatives writing about you recently. Does that mean you’re going to be leaving Arizona anytime soon?

I love Arizona, and I plan on staying in Arizona.


Yes. I wasn’t born here, but I plan to die here. I love it. My wife is a native. I just think we live in the best state with the best quality of life… I’m thoroughly enjoying myself and trying to do my best on behalf of the citizens of the state of Arizona.

Which group is worse: out-of-state special interests that run ballot measures or trial lawyers who sue the state?

They’re equally bad.

What’s the most underrated bill that you signed this year?

I think the teacher accreditation bill is the most underrated bill that I signed this year… I think there are a lot of people with a lot of talent and experience in our state that would like to help kids at the K-12 level.

One of your vetoes, on student journalists, struck a negative chord with some. Do kids not get full First Amendment protection until they’re 18?

Kids have full protection under the First Amendment. The First Amendment applies to everyone in our country. This was a bill that, while it may have had good intentions, was written to solve a problem that happened over 20 years ago. Today, we have social media. We have Facebook. We have Twitter. We have Instagram. If a kid wants to get a message out to the student body, there’s plenty of ways for them to do that. We didn’t need to pass another law to allow them to do that.

You really like the sharing economy. Do you ever take Ubers in your real life? Or have you ever stayed at an Airbnb?

I used to take Ubers in my real life. I don’t take a lot of Uber today because I’ve got these terrific individuals from the Department of Public Safety who drive me around. But I used Uber before that. I think it provides a lot of convenience to citizens and to families. My wife is a fan of Airbnb. I’m more of a hotel guy.

Do you ever get used to people being around you or yelling at you all the time in press huddles? Because you were just a normal person before becoming governor.

I think I still am a normal person. I do my best. I will say dealing with the press has been the biggest learning curve coming from the private sector into entering public life.

I recently found out that you use emojis when you text people. What’s your favorite emoji?

I probably use the smiley face, thumbs up and American flag. They’re tied for top three.

Wrap up with J.D. Mesnard

Speaker of the House, J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Luige del Puerto/Arizona Capitol Times)
Speaker of the House, J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Luige del Puerto/Arizona Capitol Times)

In his first year as speaker of the House, J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, spent much of his time as kind of a relationship therapist, mediating between competing factions of his caucus. In the process, he managed to get all 35 of his chamber’s Republicans to agree to support the state budget, though two from his caucus still balked at Gov. Doug Ducey’s university bonding proposal. And he managed to kill some of the most controversial GOP bills without making political enemies.

So, how was your first session as speaker?

It was great. We did some big stuff. We had a pretty efficient routine. Obviously it wasn’t without its controversy, but for the most part, from what I hear from other people, it was pretty smooth sailing.

What was the big controversy of the year?

Obviously we had some major policy disagreements, like with ESAs (empowerment scholarship accounts) and initiative reform, the ADA bill, some tax policy bills. Those were the policy disagreements. I don’t know if I’d call that controversial. Then there were some bills that were introduced that did generate actual controversy. But most of those got put to bed pretty quick, so that kept things a little more smooth than in the past.

One difference this session was most of the big controversies revolved around real policy questions, rather than like bathroom issues or whatever. Part of that seems to be that leadership stopped controversial bills. How do you decide what bills to kill?

That’s one of the hardest decisions I have to make. When I may even philosophically be in agreement, or understand the motive behind a bill, but I think we as a party, as a state, need to be sensitive to our image, to our perception. It’s not the overarching thing, but we want to be a state that attracts tourism and companies moving here. And reputation and image is a part of that. It’s a delicate balance. There were times when I told members, I agree with your motive, but this narrative will run away from us. And if we’re going to tackle this, there has to be a lot of planning and laying groundwork. Because as soon as you introduce this, it’s going to be an explosion. And that can be hard for them to hear. It can strain at times our relationships. So it comes down to trying to maintain a proper balance and being open and upfront about it, rather than doing things behind the scenes to sabotage.

I was looking over the most controversial bills of the year, and there was only one that I could think of that you actually killed yourself Ñ that bill to allow civil forfeiture against protesters who turn destructive. Did that bother anyone that you killed it?

I didn’t throw (the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen.) Sonny Borrelli under the bus. I called him up and we talked about it, so I think he respected the way we went about it. He really wasn’t too upset. He was a little frustrated. He felt like the narrative got away from him, but I think he understood the purpose of putting it to bed before it got any further. It got national attention, and that’s usually not a good thing. Sometimes it can be a good thing. The ESA bill got national attention, and I consider that a good thing.

Among the chattering class, the lobbyists and reporters around here, I think most people thought it was a pretty boring year. Did it feel that way to you?

I never felt bored. But I guess from the perspective that nothing crazy happened, I consider that a success.

What’s the biggest difference between being in charge and being a regular rank-and-file member?

It’s nice getting to make the decisions and call the shots. I’m as much a process guy as I am a policy guy, so getting to schedule things and make sure the trains run on time was pretty neat. But probably the biggest difference is you’re constantly dealing with the interaction of members with each other, the personality differences as well as the policy differences. You spend a lot of your time sort of being a moderator or even a therapist between members. That was more of a part of the job than I thought it would be.

You had to break out your teacher’s voice a few times this year and scold the chamber.

It’s true, I gradually ratcheted it up as I felt things were getting a little carried away. I’ve never heard so many people call Rule 19. I don’t even know what to do about that, other than maybe I’ll give everybody a printout of the definition of the word “impugn.” That was a little frustrating. I don’t know that it had anything to do with me, but we have a lot of new members who are still learning the ropes, and I guess they felt impugned–a lot of the time.

The floor debates were a little more testy this year than in past years.

Yeah, some of that is just politics. Mrs. Rios and I are going to go at it on policy differences. We’re going to articulate our positions passionately, and I think that’s appropriate, that’s what the floor is for — debate. But we do have a lot of new members, they’re still learning what it is to be a legislator. And I think there’s always a certain shock. When you run for office, you have this vision in your mind of what it’s going to be like. And then you get down here and it’s like that in some ways, and in some ways it’s very different. I think a lot of it is the newness factor. We have 25 new members of the House and 24 new legislators. That’s a lot of new blood.

The session was also kind of historic because we adjourned in the daytime. Why didn’t you take those extra 12 or 18 hours to break arms and get some last minute priorities through?

One thing I committed to was that middle-of-the-night legislating was going to be the exception. I just didn’t see any need for it. We started early in the morning for the budget, and when we were past that, there was just no need. And we also spaced our bills appropriately so we didn’t have a marathon of bills at the end. Even those last 30 or 40 bills we had left for the last couple of days were non-controversial bills. It’s painful. I need sleep. I never pulled an all-nighter in college. I’d rather fail a test than do that. I just never saw the benefit.

Wrap up with Katie Hobbs

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, led Democrats in her chamber through yet another session where the minority party tried and failed to substantively change the budget. But the Phoenix Democrat found a few reasons to be pleased with the session, while mostly remaining frustrated by Republican legislative victories.

Rate yourself as minority leader on a scale of one to 10.

I think as a caucus we stuck together on some pretty key issues. So let’s see. Eight?

Were there any highs to this session for you? Anything good you can point to?

The finger-imaging issue that we got through on the last day, that’s something I’ve worked on for all seven years I’ve been here. It’s kind of a really nuanced thing, it creates a barrier for people that need these benefits, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). And folks that were invested in keeping it there talk about reducing fraud — there’s really no evidence that it did. So really it’s going to help people that need benefits get it more quickly, and hopefully move them off poverty more quickly.

Was there a worst moment?

There’s so many to choose from! For sure the voucher bill. It’s unfathomable to me that the same folks, the bill I just talked about, people wanting fraud prevention — there’s little to no accountability or ways to prevent fraud in this program. We’re giving taxpayer dollars to individuals to send their children to private religious schools. Why is that OK? And that’s not even touching how it is working to dismantle public education. So it’s a huge problem.

You had a new Senate president to work with this year, so who’s your favorite: Steve Yarbrough or Andy Biggs?

Oh, that is not a fair question! I’m not going to say favorite. I’ll say they both have very different leadership styles. There are different things that I appreciate about both of them.

What were some of the differences?

This is not a slam towards President Biggs, but I feel like I got straighter answers from President Yarbrough. So that’s not to say President Biggs was dishonest. He would just give me more of a runaround answer on certain things.

This budget did see an increase in spending overall, including in areas Democrats have fought for, like education. Are there any positives you can find in the budget?

I was happy to see the commitment towards investing more in universities. That ended up being kind of an ugly fight. In the beginning it was pitting cities and towns versus universities. And really, kind of the way it played out, it ended up pitting K-12 versus universities. And that’s really, really unfortunate. But I am glad that there was a commitment to reinvest, though certainly not making up for the $99 million cut that was made a few years ago. I know the Governor’s Office just wants to tout over and over again, “We increased spending on K-12.” But these are the same folks who talk about you can’t solve every problem just by throwing money at it, and we’re not going to fix education just by spending money, but they are spending money in areas that it’s not needed. To me, that’s just throwing dollars at the problem to say that you did. So sure, if you want me to say more money was spent on education, I will say that. But I will continue to say I don’t think it’s in the right areas for the right priorities.

What did you mean when you said university bonding was pitted against K-12?

Our strategy was, they needed Democratic votes for this bill until they didn’t. So we pushed for bigger teacher raises, and when it comes down to it, the folks who ended up voting against the bill, they weren’t voting against universities. But if you look at the needs we continue to have in K-12, this was a bill to allow the universities to bond, we continually attack the school boards, the school districts’ ability to do the same thing. And there’s still a ton of needs that are left on the table for K-12.

Was that a missed negotiating opportunity? There was a long time when Republicans lacked the votes to approve bonding.

What you saw happen was the Democrats stuck together with a unified request. If you asked every individual Democrat, they would’ve told you the same answer: Teacher raises and TANF. I think the price tag on that was more than (Republicans) wanted. So for them it was less expensive to buy off Republicans individually.

Was that a take it or leave it proposal? Were you willing to negotiate?

They weren’t willing to go there. We offered them a proposal. When you’re negotiating, your proposal is not always your final offer, and it never got to the point of anything past, “This is our proposal.” That was on them and not on us. Because we were willing to negotiate. The fact that we showed that we’re willing to work with the majority on this issue, and that we stuck together as a caucus, I think set a tone for future issues where they need Democratic support. But it’s going to depend on the issue they need Democratic support for, that they can’t get other Republicans on. I think what’s clear is that when the Governor’s Office says they want a bipartisan something or other, what it means is, “We tell you how it’s going to be, and (Democrats) vote for it.”

What happened with the final bonding vote? Your caucus was united, but when the vote happened, Democrats split.

It was clear that either they were going to have the votes or they were going to call our bluff. What we talked about as a caucus was, we weren’t going to give them the 16th vote. But if it was clear that it was passing, that we should vote our conscience. So that’s what you saw there… Nobody wanted to vote against the universities. It made it really difficult. I kept reminding members, we have three goals here: Expand funding for universities; give teachers a meaningful raise, and restore TANF without a whole lot of strings. That was kind of the mantra that we kept.