May 10, 2023 - Politics

Senate OKs bipartisan budget with support from hesitant Democrats

Illustration of the Arizona State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Reluctant Democratic lawmakers joined their Republican colleagues early Wednesday morning in voting for the budget proposal Gov. Katie Hobbs negotiated with GOP legislative leaders, which passed out of the Senate with bipartisan support and appears headed toward final approval in the House on Wednesday.

Driving the news: The Senate passed the $17.8 billion budget plan that Hobbs, chamber President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma crafted with unanimous Republican support and a substantial number Democratic votes.

  • The House will vote today, the final step before the budget goes to the governor's desk.

The intrigue: Earlier on Tuesday, House and Senate Democratic leaders Andrés Cano and Mitzi Epstein said in a press statement the proposed budget fails to fully address issues like: K-12 spending, housing, homelessness, basic funding for state agencies and other priorities.

1 big holdup: Among Democrats' biggest complaints is the budget doesn't reverse or cap last year's law expanding the voucher-style Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program to all students, which they compared to the "alt-fuels fiasco" of 2000.

  • Legislative budget staff projected last year that ESA expansion would cost about $31 million, but unexpected growth ballooned that to about $274 million for the current fiscal year, and more in future years.
  • Progressive groups urged Democrats to oppose the budget over ESAs and other issues.

Yes, but: Several Senate Democrats ultimately supported the budget when it went to the floor, with many of the bills getting at half of the caucus's support.

Details: The proposal would spend $17.8 billion in fiscal year 2024, nearly $2.9 billion of which is one-time money.

  • It eliminates $68.6 million for former Gov. Doug Ducey's results-based funding program for K-12 schools, and puts that, plus another $300 million, into the education budget.
  • The budget puts $150 million into the state's housing trust fund.
  • There's also hundreds of millions for roadway and other capital outlay projects statewide.

What they're saying: Epstein said she felt she had to vote for the budget to preserve the Democratic priorities it contained, but that she felt "dejected," according to the Mirror.

  • In a press statement, Hobbs praised Democrats and Republicans for coming together to support a budget that made "historic investments."

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