With Arizona lawmakers unable to come to terms on a regular budget and the end of the fiscal year approaching, legislators tried and failed to get a “skinny budget” out of committee.
GOP leadership sponsored a dozen budget bills heard in the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday. The package of legislation is seen as a fail-safe that would essentially put the state’s governmental operations and spending on auto-pilot in case lawmakers fail to come up with a full budget to replace it, addressing a more than $5 billion revenue surplus.
“I don’t want to hear the term ‘skinny budget,’” said Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman. “This is not a skinny budget. This is $13 billion.”
Some Republicans voted for the bills but expressed displeasure with a stopgap measure.
“I’m not a fan of this baseline budget,” said Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix. “I would really prefer to see a budget that’s fashioned in a bipartisan manner that is more robust than what we’re doing here.”
Democrats nearly unanimously opposed the bills, saying they didn’t take advantage of the surplus to increase teacher pay, address environmental goals, or increase state services.
“Our state has incredibly difficult challenges that Arizonans want us to fix right now,” said House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, said in a statement. “We can’t leave our schools behind once again.”
With a slim majority and Democrats opposed, Representatives Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, and Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, cast votes in opposition that doomed the effort to fail.
“When Congress passes continuing resolutions and fails to pass a robust budget, we all look at them and say ‘why can’t you do your job?’” Udall told the committee. “I feel like this is doing the same thing. I feel like this not paying attention to the revenues, not paying attention to the needs of the people of this state are.”
In voting against it, Udall said there are a lot of vital needs that the state has in the coming year, and the interim budget fails to address them.
“With $5.3 billion, there’s a lot that we can do to meet those needs and to provide tax relief to help with other issues like inflation,” she said.
Hoffman took issue with the elevated level of state funding that was on par with last year’s budget, which was boosted with one-time federal funds.
“Government spending is wildly out of control at every level of government, whether it’s the feds or at the state level,” he said. “We have a $5 billion surplus. That doesn’t mean that we’re doing a good job. It means we’re overtaxing the people we were sent here to represent.”
Gov. Doug Ducey’s office has expressed skepticism about a reduced placeholder of a budget as the final appropriation of his tenure as the state’s top official.
Lawmakers have until July 1 to enact a budget.