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Arizona Senate budget debate paused due to Michelle Ugenti-Rita's absence

Michelle Ugenti-Rita
Posted at 6:41 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 14:56:25-04

PHOENIX — The Arizona Senate was slated to begin floor debate of the state budget Wednesday, but one senator’s absence derailed those plans.

State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, was a no-show for Wednesday's Committee of the Whole debates.

Republicans hold a 16-to-14 majority in this chamber, so the Republicans need everyone from their party to be a yes vote, or they need to start compromising with Democrats to get the budget passed.

The current $12.8 billion budget proposal was unveiled Monday after weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the governor’s office and Republican legislative leaders.

Ugenti-Rita’s parking spot remained empty late Wednesday afternoon, and ABC15’s calls to her office went straight to voicemail.

Several Republican leaders told ABC15 they haven’t talked to the missing senator and don’t know where she has been. Ugenti-Rita held a political event at a Scottsdale golf club Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m.

Democratic leaders told ABC15 most business has stopped as everyone is just waiting for Ugenti-Rita.

Democrats said even if the senator returns, it’s unclear whether she would vote for the budget.

Ugenti-Rita skipped the Appropriations hearing Tuesday where she was supposed to discuss the budget. She also sent out a series of tweets airing her concerns about some of the provisions in the budget package. She expressed opposition to allowing school districts to make mask mandates. She also noted the budget had storage fee increases for impounded vehicles and the tax cut bill was not “clean” because it was tied to unemployment benefit increases.

ABC15 asked a spokesman for Senate President Karen Fann if she would send a state trooper to escort Ugenti-Rita back to the Capitol. We did not receive a definitive response either way.

Arizona state lawmakers typically aim to finish voting on budget bills and end the legislative session by Memorial Day weekend, due to pre-scheduled summer family vacations.