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Arizona Senate remains stuck on state budget negotiations

Arizona Legislature's budget analysts predict 2018 shortfall
Posted at 2:35 PM, May 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-24 21:40:53-04

PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature appeared set for another long night of relative inaction as a deal to get holdout Republican senators to sign off on a state budget deal remained elusive Friday evening.

Instead, lawmakers passed a handful of bills that had no relation to the budget, including one that allows landlords not to credit rent payments from charity organizations as partial rent payments for low-income people.

The president of Arizona Senate said at midday Friday that she's still negotiating with Republicans holdouts amid hopes a deal can be struck on an $11.8 billion state spending plan for the budget year that starts July 1.

GOP Senate President Karen Fann said she still has members holding out for changes to the budget she and House Speaker Rusty Bowers negotiated with Gov. Doug Ducey.

"We're trying to find good legislation," Fann said. "We're working on everything - nothing's done until it's done, right? You know how that goes."

House lawmakers worked into the early morning hours Friday to pass several bills that are part of the state budget package before calling it a night. The Senate, meanwhile, took Thursday night off because it lacked the votes to enact budget legislation.

Lawmakers returned late Friday morning to continue working on the budget that has solid majority Republican support in the House but falls far short of enough GOP backing for the Senate to act. Minority Democrats do not support the GOP plan.

Republican holdouts who forced Thursday's Senate delay sparked anger among GOP House members that was caught on an open microphone during a closed evening caucus meeting. Reps. Ben Toma and Kelly Townsend threatened to retaliate against two GOP senators who do not support the budget, with Toma saying he would not hear bills by Sens. Paul Boyer or Heather Carter in the next session. They also discussed an ethics inquiry.

Carter and Boyer are demanding changes to laws that limit lawsuits by child sex assault victims. Carter also objects to the lack of funding for several of her key priorities that received broad support earlier but are not included in the final budget deal.

Boyer has vowed not to vote for the budget until his child sex assault bill passes. He pushed back on the idea of an ethics inquiry pegged to his move to block the budget until his demands are met.

"I think they need to re-read the code of ethics," Boyer said Friday. "If we're going to say there's something unethical about holding up a budget vote because of children who have been sexually assaulted and trying to expose child predators, then I have a different code of ethics than some of my colleagues over in the House."

The House worked until about 2 a.m. Friday, passing budget legislation on criminal justice, environment and health and human services but leaving many more pieces of budget legislation undone.

Republican Rep. T.J. Shope told reporters the House decided to adjourn until Friday morning just after 2 a.m. because the GOP caucus had shown it was solidly united on the budget plan negotiated between Senate and House leaders and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. Republicans control the House by a 31-29 margin, and all three budget bills passed without Democratic support.

All eyes remained on the Senate, where Carter and Boyer and Sen. J.D. Mesnard remain solid holdouts among Republicans who have a 17-13 majority. Mesnard wants a different tax cut plan than the one that spreads about $325 million in cuts among all tax brackets and says others back his plan.

Lawmakers have a handful of hot-button topics on tap besides the budget and hope to adjourn for the year before this weekend. They include dueling bills on how to tax car-sharing apps, changes to initiative petition rules, and a proposal designed to prevent teachers from espousing their political beliefs in class.