Jan 8, 2024 - Politics

GOP lawmakers hope to find common ground with Hobbs as legislative session gets underway

Two men standing at a podium in a conference room.

Senate President Warren Petersen (left) and Sen. John Kavanagh at a Senate GOP press briefing in December. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

After Gov. Katie Hobbs shattered Arizona's single-session veto record in 2023, GOP lawmakers believe this year they can find areas where the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic administration can reach agreements.

State of play: With the 2024 legislative session beginning Monday, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate must balance their desire to pass party priorities with the reality of a divided government.

  • Senate President Warren Petersen told reporters last month he expects fewer vetoes this year.
  • Some lawmakers will aim to address the concerns that led Hobbs to veto their bills, while others may opt not to run legislation they know won't get her signature, though he acknowledged some may send the exact same bills up to the Ninth Floor.

Yes, but: Petersen noted that Hobbs also signed a lot of bills last year and that the two sides reached an accord on the budget.

  • He's optimistic there are areas in Senate Republicans' majority plan where "all of us can find a spot where we can agree and advance on."
  • GOP lawmakers' top priorities include inflation relief, public safety and water.

Zoom in: Perhaps the most pressing issue will be the budget, which already faces a $400 million deficit for the current fiscal year.

  • Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the shortfall is manageable and will be resolved through a combination of fund sweeps and cuts, noting that much of the fiscal year budget is one-time spending.
  • He also noted that some road projects in the budget that can't be started for a year or two due to labor shortages will likely be deferred.
  • But much of the one-time money allocated to lawmakers last year has already been spent or is contractually obligated.

Elections: Hobbs vetoed myriad election bills last year, many of which were opposed by election officials and tied to conspiracy theories surrounding Republican losses in 2020 and 2022.

  • But Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, said she'll work with the governor's office on legislation to resolve issues created by a 2021 law that could delay Arizona's presidential election tally beyond the December deadline for states to certify results because the law expanded the circumstances that require automatic recounts. She said the deadline problem is "first and foremost right now."
  • House Republicans plan to send "election integrity" measures to the November ballot, which they can do without the governor's signature, according to an outline released by House Speaker Ben Toma. However, the outline didn't specify what those proposals might entail.

Inflation relief: Senate Republicans proposed a plan to ask the Environmental Protection Agency for a waiver that would exempt Arizona from a requirement to use environmentally friendly gasoline blends intended to improve air quality.

  • GOP lawmakers say that would reduce high gas prices plaguing Arizonans.
  • But Hobbs called the plan "half-baked."

Education: With the K-12 funding plan known as Proposition 123 set to expire in 2025, Republicans want to send a successor plan to the ballot in November that would redirect the more than $300 million it generates annually to teacher pay.

  • Hobbs has expressed skepticism, but lawmakers don't need her signature to refer measures to the ballot.

Border security: House and Senate Republicans tout intentions to support law enforcement at the Arizona-Mexico border, though it's unclear what their plans are or what they could pass that Hobbs would sign.

1 big nonstarter: One thing GOP lawmakers won't be taking up this session is Hobbs' proposed reforms for the school voucher-style Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.

  • Toma last week accused Hobbs and legislative Democrats of trying to "strangle ESAs and private education with bureaucracy and regulation" and vowed he won't let that happen.
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