Ducey explains student journalist veto


Gov. Doug Ducey said May 23 he believes in First Amendment rights for high school journalists, but only if they are supervised and can be overridden by school principals and administrators.

“I’m a believer of course in free speech and have been supportive of the First Amendment,” the governor told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after vetoing legislation that would have limited the ability of school officials to censor what their students write. But Ducey said there are limits to those constitutional rights.

“These are minors,” he said.

“We believe that some supervision and making certain that the principal is in charge of a school and the school’s direction is important,” Ducey continued. “And that’s what resulted in the veto.”

The governor’s move disappointed Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix — and not only because she shepherded her legislation through the Senate without any dissent and picked up 41 votes in support in the 60-member House.

This cartoon was drawn by Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, when she attended Greenway High School. Although this work was published, some of the senator's cartoons were censored by public school officials, which led her to sponsor legislation to protect student journalists.
This cartoon was drawn by Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, when she attended Greenway High School. Although this work was published, some of the senator’s cartoons were censored by public school officials, which led her to sponsor legislation to protect student journalists.

It was Yee’s personal experience as a student journalist in 1991 at Greenway High School in Phoenix, having her stories and cartoons quashed by administrators that first sparked her interest. In fact, she even convinced the state Senate the following year to enact legislation protecting student publication rights.

That 1992 measure died when it could not clear the House. So Yee, now the Senate majority leader, decided it’s time to try again.

“I know Kimberly’s history on this personally,” Ducey said. But “that happened over 20 years ago.”

Nor was the governor persuaded by the reporting done earlier this year by students at Pittsburg High School in Kansas who found out that advanced degrees claimed by the new principal came from a university that apparently was not accredited. She subsequently quit.

“I’m certainly aware of the Kansas issue,” Ducey said. “But I don’t know we need to be solving Kansas issues in Arizona.”

But there was testimony earlier this year there is a problem in Arizona, not just from student journalists but also faculty.

Peggy Gregory who advises the student paper at Greenway High School told lawmakers about an incident where students were working on a new story about a testing program the district liked. That article, she said, quoted a teacher who was critical of that testing.

Gregory said the school superintendent instructed the principal to tell her to kill the story — or lose her job. Censorship aside, Gregory said these kinds of situations undermine what she and other journalism teachers are trying to teach.

Sen. Kimberly Yee
Sen. Kimberly Yee

“If they’re only allowed to publish puff pieces, how will they ever learn the power of the press to bring about change, to challenge ideas, to take the responsibility of their words, and to take up the mantle of the great journalists who have preceded them?” she asked.

“We don’t want administration to censor stuff,” the governor said. “These kids enjoy the same First Amendment rights that you and I do.”

Well, not exactly.

In 1969 the U.S. Supreme Court declared that student press freedom was protected by the First Amendment. But in 1988 the court partly reversed itself, ruling that public school newspapers do not have the same level of constitutional rights as other publications.

Gov. Doug Ducey

The bottom line, Ducey said, is his belief there needs to be someone to second guess the judgment of writers who could be as young as 14.

“We just wanted to make sure there would be adult supervision and that we wouldn’t strip teachers or principals of authority,” the governor said.

“That is the misperception of how journalism works in schools,” Yee said.

“Of course there is adult supervision,” she continued. “You have a certified teacher as the journalism adviser and you often have an assistant, who is also an adult.”

And Yee insisted that the language of her legislation was broad enough to give some oversight even to principals and school officials.

As approved, her legislation required each school governing board to adopt “written content standards or guidelines for school-sponsored media.” And the measure allowed school officials to kill stories that create imminent danger of inciting students to violate the law or district regulations “or materially and substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the public school.”

Yee said those provisions likely would have given administrators the ability to quash even embarrassing stories.

She said that language resulted in the Arizona School Boards Association deciding not to try to kill the legislation. But ASBA lobbyist Chris Kotterman said many local board members still had concerns.

“It would hamper their ability to prevent the publication of material that they thought was problematic,” he said. “And that is their right under the (1988 Supreme Court) case.”

The easiest thing to do, Kotterman said, was simply stay out of the fight.

Ducey said he’s willing to consider a similar bill next year — but only if its scope is limited.

“If this had been something for college students or above it would have been an easy signature,” he said.

Ducey vetoes bill that would raise lawmaker per diem rates


Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday vetoed a bill that would have more than tripled daily allowances for some lawmakers.

In his note accompanying the veto, Ducey said there “is a strong case to be made” for raising per diem rates for lawmakers representing areas outside of Maricopa County, but that any changes to  the allowances should take effect after the 2020 election.

Late in the legislative session, lawmakers in the House and Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would have greatly increased the daily allowances for both rural and in-county lawmakers. Even some who voted against it said they supported the concept, just not the perception of paying themselves more.

Rural lawmakers, in particular, talked about how they struggled to afford living in Phoenix during the session. Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Window Rock, said that lawmakers from her district, the largest in the state, often don’t run for re-election because of the toll the job and travel take on them.

“We have a nice title, but we can’t eat or feed our children the title of senator or representative,” Peshlakai said.

Rural lawmakers now receive $60 in per diem, and Maricopa County lawmakers receive $35. After the 120th day of session, that amount falls to $20 for rural lawmakers and $10 for in-county legislators. They also make a $24,000 annual salary and are reimbursed for travel to and from the Capitol or on official business.

Voters must approve any increases to lawmakers’ salaries, and they routinely reject them. Since 1972, voters have seen 18 ballot measures asking for legislative raises, but they only approved two. Increasing per diem, on the other hand, requires only a majority vote and a signature from the governor.

The bill vetoed by Ducey would have tied per diem rates to the annual average per diem set by the Government Services Administration for federal employees. Lawmakers who live outside of Maricopa County would receive the full federal per diem for the first 120 days of session, while in-county legislators would get half that amount. After 120 days, the amount they would be paid would be sliced in half.

Using 2019 federal per diem rates, that would work out to $185 for rural lawmakers and $94.50 for Maricopa County legislators would. After 120 days, rural lawmakers would get $94.50 and in-county lawmakers would receive $47.25.

Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, said  that the current difference between rural and in-county lawmakers’ per diem allotments doesn’t reflect the cost of living in Phoenix.

“Motel 6 will keep the light on for you, but they will not give you a room for $25 a day,” Gray said.

He and other supporters of the bill also said changes to federal tax law that took effect in 2018 further increased costs for lawmakers. The new federal law eliminated some write-offs and itemized deductions that lawmakers had been able to use.

Sen. Juan Mendez, one of the seven senators who voted against the per diem increase, said the changes to federal tax law only affected already-wealthy lawmakers who itemize their deductions.

“I feel like it’s only the rich members who were able to write off their expenses,” the Tempe Democrat said. “I don’t think  I’ve ever made enough money to itemize my taxes, so I definitely can’t sympathize there.”

Other lawmakers who opposed the increase said they just didn’t like the optics. Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said lawmakers voting to increase their per diems sends the wrong message to other state employees who also make sacrifices to do their jobs.

“All of those employees who have been sacrificing for years to serve the people of the state of Arizona, what message are we sending them when we are voting for ourselves first and them second?” he asked during debate on the Senate floor. “I can’t with good conscience go back to my community, go back to my district and tell them I voted for a bill that would increase my pay before I voted to increase their pay.”

And others, including Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, were troubled by the inclusion of Maricopa County.

“For the rural legislators that are here, I completely support you, but I can’t support it for myself because it doesn’t make sense,” she said. “ If there had been a mileage qualifier on this bill, I would have been all on board, but there’s not.”

Ducey did not specifically say in his veto letter that he would oppose any increase for Maricopa County lawmakers, but he said he was interested in working with the Legislature next session to recognize what it takes for rural lawmakers to be at the Capitol.

Ducey vetoes sex ed bill, issues executive order instead


Calling it “overly broad and vague,” Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday vetoed a sweeping sex education bill that opponents feared would have prohibited any acknowledgment of LGBTQ people in the classroom. 

Instead, Ducey issued his own executive order, which will require all schools to post sex education curriculums online. He framed his action as a way to preserve parental rights, while not risking the possibility that schools could stop teaching younger students about recognizing, reporting and preventing child abuse. 

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

“Arizona is and will remain a national leader in parental rights, and I support the underlying principles and intent of this legislation: More parental involvement in education, especially around the very personal and sensitive topic of sex education,” Ducey wrote in his veto letter. 

As approved by Republicans in the House and Senate, SB1456 would have banned all forms of sex education before the fifth grade. It also would have required parents to sign permission slips any time sexual orientation or gender identity came up in school curricula, even if it wasn’t connected to sex education. 

Sen. Christine Marsh, an English teacher who recently moved from high school to middle school, said that it could prevent her from talking about some themes in Catcher in the Rye, a commonly assigned book that contains subtext suggesting at least one character is a repressed homosexual. 

Other Democrats who opposed the bill said it could stop history lessons, including acknowledging the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, or, on a local level, teaching students in Tempe about how their city had the first openly gay elected mayor in the country.  

Parents, activists and LGBTQ students who rallied outside the Heard Museum last week to catch Ducey’s attention when he arrived to sign an unrelated bill described the bill as a way to revive the so-called “no promo homo” law overturned by a bipartisan Legislature in 2019.  

Nancy Barto
Nancy Barto

Kerrie Green, who identifies as a nonbinary parent of a nonbinary middle schooler, drove up from Tucson to participate in the event. Green said parents who don’t want their children to learn about human development can already opt out of instruction or choose to attend a different school, and Sen. Nancy Barto’s bill created problems without fixing any.  

“I send my kid to school to learn to open their mind to grow as a human being, and I don’t want to go backwards,” Green said.  

From 1991 to 2019, Arizona law mandated education about HIV and AIDS but prohibited the promotion of a “homosexual lifestyle” or acknowledgements of possibilities for safe sex between anyone but heterosexual couples. Democrats tried in vain in subsequent years to repeal the clauses about not promoting homosexuality, but it took a lawsuit and the unlikely team of Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich to finally pass a repeal in April 2019. Ducey quickly signed the bill, which he called a “common sense solution.” 

Within months, conservative Republican lawmakers were attending meetings and sharing videos purporting to show a leftist agenda to sexualize children. House Speaker Rusty Bowers called Hoffman a “radical,” Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, claimed he had to “deprogram” his son after exposure to sex education courses in California and the issue appeared poised to be one of the most contentious issues of the 2020 session 

Instead, after former Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, attracted national attention for a bill that would ban sex education before seventh grade and appeared to again prohibit discussions of homosexuality, Republican leaders killed sex education bills they deemed too controversial to take up during an election year.  

With no such electoral compunctions this year, Barto’s SB1456 sailed through the House and Senate with unanimous support from Republicans.  

As LGBTQ activists rallied outside the Heard Museum last week, Equality Arizona Executive Director Michael Soto said allies in the business community were with Ducey in the museum and would advocate for him to veto the bill in private conversations. Backlash from business leaders in 2014 prompted then-Gov. Jan Brewer to veto a bill cosponsored by Barto that would have guaranteed businesses that cited religious beliefs the right to deny services to gay and lesbian customers.  

“We know that the business community doesn’t want this,” Soto said. “We’re seeing all over the country such incredible backlash from corporations, from sports teams, all sorts of major companies against states that are legalizing discrimination.” 

Hoffman thanked Ducey for “standing up to bigotry and intolerance” in a tweet after the veto.  

 “All students are welcome in Arizona’s public schools and today’s veto reaffirms that,” she wrote. 

The socially conservative Center for Arizona Policy, meanwhile, panned the news. In a written statement, organization President Cathi Herrod said Ducey sent parents a message that the government knows better.  

“Parents have the fundamental right and responsibility to raise their children,” Herrod wrote. “Exactly what they are taught regarding human sexuality, and when, is up to parents, not the government.” 

Ducey agreed, to an extent. His executive order will mandate that sex education curricula can only be adopted at public meetings with at least twoweeks notice and that parents can review the curriculum online or in person at any time. Parents are already able to opt their children out of any lessons.  

“Too often, parents are left out of this process, and the importance is even greater when it comes to educating students about deeply personal matters like sex education,” Ducey said in a written statement. “This executive order ensures that parents are in the driver’s seat when it comes to overseeing the education of their children.” 


Hobbs rejects 2 GOP election bills

Gov. Katie Hobbs on Friday vetoed two measures which directly relate to the issues now being raised as her election is being challenged.

Hobbs rejected HB 2305, which would have ensured that representatives of both political parties could challenge the decisions made by the election workers determining whether a signature on an early ballot was valid.

That is significant because, while it would have affected only future elections, it parallels the bid being made by Kari Lake to overturn the results of the 2022 race.

She claims that Maricopa County election workers were verifying invalid signatures. And current law does not permit political party observers who believe a signature does not match to force it to be reviewed by anyone other than the election worker.

Separately, Hobbs vetoed a measure to force her successors as secretary of state to do something she refused to do voluntarily when she was running for governor last year: not perform any duties in a race in which that person’s name also is on the ballot.

That follows arguments by Republicans that the secretary of state, as the state’s chief elections officer, has an inherent conflict of interest. And Lake herself charged that Hobbs used her office to force supervisors in several counties to certify election results that they had questioned, though courts upheld her actions as legal.

The two new vetoes on Friday were just part of 14 measures approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature that Hobbs found unacceptable. That brings her total now up to 86 since the session began.

More than a handful have involved changes in election laws. Rejected measures included making it easier to remove people from the active early voting list if they don’t use it every election cycle, requiring all parts of election equipment to be manufactured and fabricated in the United States, and codifying the standards for signature verification on early ballot envelopes.

Her veto of HB 2305 on greater oversight of the signature review process relates to that last issue.

Cory McGarr

“What we have seen with most of the elections we have had recently is a growing distrust from ordinary, regular people, not hyper-partisan, where the outcome for them becomes in question,” Rep. Cory McGarr, R-Marana, told colleagues in pushing his legislation.

“There’s a severe lack of trust that can grow when you see an instance where someone literally draws a snowman and then that snowman passes as a signature when you see that signature right next to it,” he said, though McGarr did not say where he saw that image. “And so you can have instances where the public begins to doubt the circumstances of the voting process.”

Maricopa County officials have disputed such claims. They said while a signature on a ballot envelope may not appear to match a voter’s registration form, their reviewers have multiple other examples of a voter’s signature to use for comparison purposes.

And as a last resort, they – and all counties – can try to contact the voter to see if the person whose name is on the envelope actually is the person who sent it in.

Lake has claimed for months that her loss was tainted by mismatched signatures.

At last week’s trial, however, Lake’s attorneys did not present examples.

That’s because her case is based not on specific bad signatures but the larger contention that it was not possible for election workers to have properly reviewed and verified them in the time taken. That includes more than 240,000 signatures Lake’s legal team said were verified in fewer than three seconds.

Judge Peter Thompson is deciding whether that claim has any validity – the report used by the person who Lake brought to court as a signature expert was never admitted into evidence  – and whether there is enough evidence for him to overturn the results of the race that saw Hobbs defeat Lake by 17,117 votes.

The governor, in her veto message, addressed none of that.

Instead, Hobbs said that what is in HB 2305 “creates unnecessary burdens for election administrators.”

She also said there are “meaningful privacy concerns for Arizona voters.”

Only thing is, the measure was amended before it reached Hobbs to prohibit the observers that McGarr’s bill would have allowed from noting, transcribing or disclosing the personal information they see, ranging from dates and places of birth to phone numbers, driver license numbers and a mother’s maiden name. But gubernatorial press aide Christian Slater, in explaining the veto Sunday, said that wasn’t enough to satisfy his boss.

“We believe the bill still contains privacy concerns, even after the amendment,” he said.

Hobbs’ other election-related veto goes to the question of the role of people who serve as secretary of state, as she did until the end of last year.

Rachel Jones

HB 2308 was sponsored by Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson. It sought to bar the secretary of state from personally performing any aspect of operations in an election in which that person is a candidate for office.

And the 2022 election was clearly on her mind.

“I think the optics of that, of a secretary of state running their own election for governor and then certifying that election was a major concern to some of my constituents,” she said.

Jones acknowledged that the Republican-controlled Legislature never pursued similar measures when Hobbs’ predecessors  – all Republicans going back to 1995  – were running either for reelection or a higher office. And her proposal also comes as the current secretary of state, Adrian Fontes, is a Democrat.

But Jones said those were different times.

“I think the environment then, I don’t think it had become such a topic of conversation until after 2020,” she said. That was the year of claims that Republican gubernatorial hopeful Donald Trump had been cheated out of the state’s 11 electoral votes when official results show he was outpolled by Joe Biden.

“There is a lack of confidence, all in all, in our election process,” Jones said.

During the 2022 race, Lake and other Republicans had called for Hobbs to voluntarily recuse herself. She refused, saying this has never been an issue before.

“I’m not going to recuse myself from the job that voters elected me to do,” Hobbs said.

In her veto message, the governor said that the position is elected and that the duties make the secretary of state Arizona’s chief election officer.

“There is no reasonable basis to believe that Arizonans should not trust the secretary of state to do their job impartially,” Hobbs wrote.


Keeping Arizona roads safe: The importance of vetoing SB1234

The veto of Senate Bill 1234, a piece of legislation that sought to prohibit the use of traffic cameras in Arizona, marks an important moment for safety on our roads. The decision to veto this bill sends a clear message about the value of these devices in ensuring the well-being of everyone who uses our state’s thoroughfares.

Traffic enforcement cameras serve a critical role in moderating and controlling driver behavior. They act as an omnipresent force, subtly reminding drivers to follow the rules of the road. When motorists know that a camera is watching, they are more likely to adhere to traffic laws, leading to safer and more orderly roads.

The efficacy of traffic cameras extends beyond the immediate location they cover. This ‘spillover’ effect creates an atmosphere of orderliness and discipline on the roads. Drivers, knowing they could be under surveillance, will instinctively be more conscious of their driving habits even in areas without visible cameras.

Notably, the use of traffic cameras isn’t about penalizing drivers, but about fostering a culture of responsible driving and respect for traffic laws. They make our roads less hazardous and more predictable, reducing the frequency of accidents and the injuries that often come with them.

The integration of traffic cameras into our road safety strategy also significantly increases the efficiency of our police force. By delegating traffic enforcement to automated systems, our law enforcement officers can be freed to attend to more pressing matters, or those that require a more human touch.

The automated nature of these devices ensures round-the-clock traffic regulation, beyond what would be practically possible with police officers alone. This not only saves the state the cost of manpower but also leads to more comprehensive traffic law enforcement.

We applaud Gov. Katie Hobbs for vetoing SB 1234.  It is a testament to our shared commitment to making Arizona’s roads as safe as they can possibly be. It is also a recognition of the benefits that traffic cameras bring to our state – from creating safer driving conditions to improving the efficiency of our police force. With this decision, Arizona takes a firm stand in preserving the integrity of our roadways and the safety of all who travel upon them.

Rick Murray is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chapter National Safety Council.

Lawmakers to explore how to get per diem increase after veto

Law act with red veto stamp. President veto

Stunned by the governor’s veto, some lawmakers already are exploring how – and when – they can finally get an increase in their living allowances.

And one question is whether rural legislators, who the governor said are clearly entitled to more, should throw their more numerous Phoenix area counterparts over the side.

“There’s some of our members that were really counting on that to help them get through the cost of serving,” said Senate President Karen Fann.

“Expenses have just gotten so ridiculously high just trying to find a place to live temporarily,” the Prescott Republican told Capitol Media Services. That includes not just the session which runs from January into at least April, and sometimes longer, but the times that lawmakers need to be at the Capitol the rest of the year for hearings and meetings.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

That, in turn, means finding housing in the Phoenix area that’s available year round.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who sponsored the House version of the increase that Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed on Friday, said this isn’t about lawmakers lining their pockets.

“We have members that are living in motor homes in not-very-nice locations,” he said. “And it’s all because of inflation,” pointing out the allowance of $60 a day for rural lawmakers and $35 for Maricopa County legislators has not been adjusted since 1984.

Both want to make another run at the issue when the Legislature reconvenes in January. But it’s the form that will take that remains under debate.

The legislation Ducey vetoed Friday would have pegged the allowance for lawmakers from outside Maricopa County at what the U.S. General Services Administration allows for travel to Phoenix. That figure is now $185 a day.

It also would have kept the current practice of paying for seven days a week, regardless of how many days the Legislature is in session, under the premise that rural lawmakers need to rent or buy a second residence.

Ducey apparently had no problem with more cash for non-Maricopa County lawmakers, saying there is “a strong case to be made for ensuring we are appropriately recognizing what is required for them to be here at the state Capitol in Phoenix during session.”

But what it also would have done is given a half allowance of $92.50 a day, seven days a week to Maricopa County lawmakers. And, unable to veto just part of the measure, the governor rejected the whole plan.

“Next year, we’ll try something different,” said Fann. But she isn’t ready to say that the new version should be narrowed to only those who don’t live in Maricopa County.

But the idea of jettisoning an allowance hike for urban lawmakers to get Ducey’s signature on a bill definitely annoyed Campbell.

“I don’t like the divide-and-conquer thing,” he said. “That’s not good politics.”

What it also may not be is a winning strategy.

There are 53 lawmakers that live in Maricopa County versus 27 who come to the Capitol from the other 14 counties. That means it will take at least some of their votes for rural lawmakers to get the allowance boost they say they need.

At least part of the impetus for the increase is that lawmakers are paid $24,000 a year. That’s a figure over which they have no control, as it is up to a special commission to make recommendations and up to voters to approve.

The last pay hike was in 1998.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, who voted for the allowance increase, said that figure should be $36,000 a year. But that was specifically rejected by voters in prior years, as was a scaled-back proposal for $30,000.

“In California, they get over $100,000 a year, plus automobiles, plus, plus, plus,” Lawrence complained, in addition to $192 a day in per diem. “So, yeah, I believe we deserve more money because it’s an all-year job.”

Campbell said the lack of what he believes is proper compensation rankles some of his colleagues.

“It just shows us they don’t think much about us, they don’t consider the needs that we have,” he said. “And, the truth of it is, nobody’s looking out for us except ourselves.”

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

But Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said she doubts voters will approve a higher salary “as long as we continue to act the way we do.” She said there were days in the just-completed session where the Republican majority, missing one or two key members whose votes they needed, would let the whole day go by without voting on matters.

That still leaves the question of whether proponents of a higher allowance should try again next year with a measure to aid just the out-county lawmakers.

“I would be perfectly OK with that,” said Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who supported the now-vetoed plan. Farnsworth said he actually would have preferred that be the proposal “but that’s not what the bill was.”

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, opposed the allowance increase, calling the action at the end of the session “poor timing.”

But Grantham said lawmakers should not be in any rush to ignore the needs of Maricopa County legislators like himself. He said even they have expenses that can exceed $35 a day, though he said that perhaps the $92.50 was not the right number.

And Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, who would benefit from an increase to non-Maricopa County lawmakers, said he sees no reason not to provide some financial relief to his Maricopa County counterparts.

“There is some expense to meals,” he said, whether the lawmaker is living in town year round or has an apartment here for the session. What may need to be debated, said Friese, is what is a proper figure for in-county lawmakers.

Friese said he doesn’t necessarily see the governor’s veto as an outright rejection of more money for Maricopa lawmakers.

He pointed out that Ducey also expressed some unhappiness that the increase would have taken effect this year, benefiting the lawmakers who voted for it and whose terms run through 2020. Friese said an increase with a delayed effective date – not until 2021 – may be more palatable.

Fernandez, too, said she believes there needs to be some consideration for costs incurred by Maricopa County lawmakers.

But Fernandez also voted against the increase, not over the beliefs of the merits but the timing.

“For it to come at the 11th hour doesn’t look good,” she said.

New proposed tax cuts abound as need for K-12 funds persists

Gov. Doug Ducey won’t promise to veto new tax cuts even as he says the state is putting as much money as it can into public education.

In fact, the governor is already committed to sign at least one measure that will cut state revenues by up to $15 million a year.

The issue arises amid rising complaints from teachers and educators that the state is short-changing public schools. That comes not only because per student funding is actually less than it was a decade ago after inflation is taken into account but that teacher salaries in Arizona are at or near the bottom of the nation.

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

Ducey, for his part, said he is doing what he can to turn around the situation which was made worse by the Great Recession. His current budget includes an additional $400 million in state aid to education, which he said is 80 percent of new spending for the coming fiscal year.

More than a quarter of that is mandatory, accounting for student growth and inflation. There’s also $34 million for the second half of the 2 percent pay hike for teachers lawmakers approved last year.

Ducey also proposes adding $100 million in what’s called “district additional assistance,” money that can be used for things like computers, books and school buses, and $88 million for new school construction.

Both of those, however, come in response to a lawsuit filed against the state which points out that the governor and lawmakers have ignored the legal requirement to provide those funds every year. In fact, Ducey himself cut more than $100 million from the formula in prior budgets.

In the meantime, Republican lawmakers have been pushing their own ideas for changes in the state tax code that would reduce future revenues.

Ultimately it could be Ducey who gets the last word. But the governor is unwilling to say those are off the table.

“I need to see the bill before I give you a comment,” he told Capitol Media Services, saying he will look at any such measures in the context of the total state budget.

“The commitment is to get 80 percent of new spending in this budget to K-12 education,” Ducey said.

He did not dispute, however, that any cut in revenues, by definition, means a smaller amount available for total new spending — and, by extension, fewer dollars for K-12 education.

The governor said he will review bills beyond his pre-endorsed tax break for military retirees and would veto them “if they’re in conflict with what I’m saying. But Ducey also said he does not necessarily see a conflict between focusing on K-12 education and tax cuts to spur business.

“I think people have seen our record on economic development, our success there,” he said.

“We want to continue to be consistent,” Ducey continued. “And we can improve the tax situation of the state while putting $400 million into K-12 education.”

Ducey made a special pitch for his own tax cut proposal: Exempting the first $10,000 of military pensions from the state’s income tax.

Current Arizona law allows people who get pensions from any government agency need not pay taxes on the first $2,500. That includes local, state and federal workers.

Raising the exemption for military pensions by $7,500 does not translate into an identical reduction in taxes. Instead, it reduces the retiree’s taxable income, the amount against which the state’s taxes are computed.

Arizona’s individual income tax rates vary from 2.59 percent to 4.54 percent. Assuming an average tax rate of 3.5 percent, that would provide an estimated tax break for a military retiree of about $260 a year.

But added up, the change when fully implemented, cuts into state revenues by about $15 million. Ducey was unapologetic for pushing the measure.

“We’ve made a commitment to veterans,” he said. “I intend to follow through on that commitment.”

But the governor isn’t the only one with ideas on how to cut taxes.

For example, Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, has pushed a bill through the House to provide an immediate increase in the amount that taxpayers can deduct from their income for each dependent when computing how much they owe the state.

The current figure is $2,300. HB 2264 would boost that to $2,350 next year and $2,400 the year after that, with future automatic increases tied to inflation.

Legislative budget staffers have not analyzed the bill for its potential hit to tax collections. The measure awaits Senate action.

Mosley isn’t the only one proposing tax cuts.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has crafted a measure to decrease the amount of capital gains subject to state income taxes. HB 2528, according to legislative staffers, has a potential $23.2 million hit when fully implemented.

And there are separate bills to spell out that certain digital goods and services are not taxable. Proponents contend these have no fiscal impact as the state should not be taxing them now; foes cite figures from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns showing there would be actual revenue losses.

There also are proposals to create various new tax credits for things like building affordable housing and for caring for a family member.

Still no budget 2 weeks after mass veto

 In this Dec. 2, 2020, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey answers a question during a news conference in Phoenix. A new voter-approved tax on high-earning Arizonans that will boost education spending is firmly in Gov. Doug Ducey's crosshairs, with the Republican vowing Friday, March 19, 2021, to see Proposition 208's new tax cancelled either through the courts or the GOP-controlled Legislature. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this Dec. 2, 2020, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey answers a question during a news conference in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Gov. Doug Ducey’s veto of 22 bills on May 28 to spur the Legislature into passing a budget before the fiscal year ends may have backfired. 

Ducey still thinks he made the right decision even though the Republican-controlled Legislature still does not have the required 31 and 16 votes to put the budget on the governor’s desk, the governor’s spokesman, CJ Karamargin said.  

“Negotiations are still underway,” Karamargin said. “We’re confident that the budget we have on the table is a good budget, talks continue, and we remain hopeful.” 

But time is winding down to pass a budget before the fiscal year ends on June 30, with Republican holdouts in the House and Senate not willing to budge.  

Ducey told Capitol Media Services he is open to gaining some Democratic support, but that support appears to be off the table under the current budget proposal, which includes Ducey’s pet project of a massive tax cut that benefits mostly the wealthy. 

And on June 10, Ducey announced he’s calling a special session to address the wildfires that are destroying land and homes around the state.  

Republican strategist Lisa James said she thinks Ducey’s veto tactic didn’t work out the way he wanted, but stopped short of saying it was the wrong decision. 

“It doesn’t seem to have done the job,” James said about the veto decision. “Although, I mean, they have to work on [the budget] now, so I don’t see them sending anything else [to Ducey], so things are stalled.”  

James said it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Ducey resorted to mass vetoes given that he used the same tactic in 2018. 

“It was a signal that he was pretty focused on getting things done and they should do the same,” she said, adding that the narrow GOP margins in both chambers make things more challenging as has been the case over 150-plus days of the session.  

She likened it to a game of tug-of-war where Ducey’s office and the Legislature are seeing how long the other side can hold out, adding that “there is business to get done.” 

“Either they’re gonna figure it out, or somebody is going to end up in the mud,” she said.  

Ducey received harsh criticism nationally over some specific bills he vetoed. Former President Trump sent out a press release chiding the governor. 

“Incredible to see that RINO Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona just vetoed a bill that would have outlawed Critical Race Theory training for State employees, and another that would have banned the mailing of ballots to citizens who never requested them,” Trump said in the statement. 

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also had some choice words for Ducey over those same bills, SB1074 and HB2792, both of which have been reintroduced and originally passed along party lines.  

Huckabee mostly parroted Trump’s thoughts and comments from Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, who called out Ducey for vetoing a bill of his among the 22.  

Navarrete said Ducey’s decision was a “public temper tantrum fit for a toddler.” 

Progressive lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez said the veto sent the wrong message to Republicans and Democrats alike.  

“I think it 100% backfired,” she said, adding that it left a lot of people scratching their heads at the decision.  

“It doesn’t seem to be conducive toward building bridges,” Rodriguez said.  “All he ended up doing was pissing off Republicans and Democrats that he probably needs to get a budget deal done so I don’t quite understand the wisdom of what he did.” 

Rodriguez said although she’s happy Ducey vetoed some bills she was against, there were also bills she supported and that received bipartisan votes that he just decided to send back in his ultimatum.  

“It just really seems like he chose the option that would maximize making the most people pissed off as possible,” she said.  

Since Ducey’s mega veto, the Legislature continued its quasi-vacation until the House came back on June 7 to get all 60 lawmakers on the record where they stand on the budget. 

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, was the sole GOP holdout, which he had made evidently clear days leading up to the budget votes. He was there despite his home on the verge of being engulfed in flames from the Telegraph Fire, because he thought he owed it to his constituents.  

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, is the main Republican holdout in that chamber.  

Both chambers briefly returned to work on June 10, but did not address the budget before adjourning through the weekend, giving them a little more than two weeks before having to face a potential government shutdown. 

Voters out to veto 2021 legislation

In this March 17, 2020, file photo, an Arizona voter delivers her mail-in ballot at a polling station for the Arizona presidential preference election in Phoenix. In addition to their nationwide efforts to restrict voting access, Republican lawmakers in some key states are seeking greater control over the local mechanics of elections, from voter registration to certifying results. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
In this March 17, 2020, file photo, an Arizona voter delivers her mail-in ballot at a polling station for the Arizona presidential preference election in Phoenix. In addition to their nationwide efforts to restrict voting access, Republican lawmakers in some key states are seeking greater control over the local mechanics of elections, from voter registration to certifying results. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

The 2022 election may feature a clash of titans: citizens versus lawmakers.  

The 2021 Republican-controlled Legislature has fueled a rush of organizers to the ballot box to veto some of the most controversial legislation that passed along slim partisan lines.  

GOP lawmakers also are going to test whether voters are willing to cede some of their powers to legislate.  

A Republican pollster and the head of a progressive advocacy group say Arizona has reached this point because Republicans have ignored the desires of voters and are trying to weaken their power.  

The slimmest margins in state history happened in the 2021 session, but even with one-vote majorities in each chamber, the politics has become more polarized. 

Paul Bentz, a Republican strategist and pollster with HighGround Public Affairs, said the changes from the 2020 session to 2021 show – at least on the Republican side – that the more fringe candidates won, moving the party further from the middle. 

For Democrats, he added, progressive candidates didn’t unseat any moderate incumbents, but he said that party is also moving further from the middle, which doesn’t bode well for bipartisanship, even with how close the chambers are in numbers. 

Organizers were unhappy with the majority’s decision to not include Democrats in the budget negotiating process and passage of divisive bills mostly relating to elections and education. That left Democrats with trying to achieve their priorities the only way they can – through citizens initiatives and veto referendums. 

Arizona is one of a handful of states that provides voters the opportunity to get an initiative or constitutional amendment on the ballot as well as the chance to veto a law the governor signs.  

In recent years, citing the lack of Republican legislators’ will to approve certain laws, voters took it among themselves to legalize medical marijuana in 2010; raise the minimum wage in 2016; and in 2020 legalize recreational marijuana and increase the taxes on high income earners for additional K-12 education funding. 

Republican lawmakers met each of those decisions with vast criticism, either attempting to weaken such laws or undo them altogether, but they are prevented by the Voter Protection Act.  

Joel Edman, executive director of the progressive Arizona Advocacy Network, said this is just another reason why those same lawmakers are always trying to weaken the law that prevents them from undoing what a majority of voters want.  

There are two ballot referrals Republicans want voters to approve next election that deal with the Voter Protection Act or the initiative process.  

One allows for a single provision in a voter-approved law to be challenged in court, and if found unconstitutional, the entire law can be modified by a simple-majority of the Legislature rather than three-fourths, as current law states. The other referral would limit initiatives to a single-subject rule like bills in the Legislature. 

Several other proposals failed this year and are likely to come back in the 2022 session, like increasing the threshold from a simple majority of voters to 55% or 60%. 

“I think it is clear now that the majority in the Legislature recognizes that they are not aligned with the majority of Arizonans on a number of issues,” Edman said, adding that he thinks it will be the new normal to see Arizonans fight back on the ballot with more veto referendums like the state saw in 2018 for the first time in a while.  

Save Our Schools Arizona formed in 2018 in response to Gov. Doug Ducey signing a universal expansion of the state’s empowerment scholarship accounts program, or school vouchers. The grassroots organization collected enough signatures in its limited 90-day window, halted the expansion and voters overturned the law 65% to 35%.  

Education groups are launching another veto referendum effort to undo a massive tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits wealthy Arizonans because it’s viewed as retaliation for Proposition 208 passing last year. The “yes” campaign won by more than 100,000 votes. As of July 8, two separate groups filed five veto referenda to get onto next year’s ballot. They relate to the budget and divisive election laws.  

Edman said he thinks Republicans are trying to “gut” the Voter Protection Act and initiative process because the party is trying to take advantage of their majorities, which may not last much longer. 

He said the Republican-controlled Legislature has become more “authoritarian both in the policies that they pursue and in how they try to reshape the ability for anybody other than that legislative majority to make policy.” 

Bentz said the 2018 voucher referendum should have been a “wake up call” for Republican legislators. 

“They should be more mindful that they have not heeded that warning to this point,” he said. “They were told – multiple times – through polling and other ways that both marijuana and an education funding initiative were likely to pass. … they were aware of those things and chose not to act.” 

Republicans once again this year tried to pass another voucher expansion, but failed before pulling out most of the teeth to gain enough Republican support in the House. Again, an example viewed as not listening to what voters told them overwhelmingly.  

“Ultimately, what both the marijuana and education (propositions) showed is that if the electorate wants the issue, whether or not a good campaign is run is sort of irrelevant because it’s likely to pass,” Bentz said.  

He added that outside special interest groups having the financial backing only make it easier to legislate on the ballot. 

“If you’ve got money, it’s almost better to write the law that you want in the way that you want it, than to go through the process and be trapped by a legislator or two who can – as we see in the budget and everything else – hold the whole thing up,” he said.