GOP-backed 'skinny budget' clears first hurdle in Arizona spending showdown with Hobbs
A Republican budget proposal sold as a continuation of last year's bipartisan budget while lawmakers head into what will likely be heated debates and economic uncertainty passed its first hurdle Tuesday morning.
The so-called "skinny budget," which continues much of the same record $18 billion budget passed last year, passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee along party lines Tuesday morning after minimal discussion.
This month, Republican lawmakers said they would only negotiate with Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, on state spending after their continuation budget was signed into law. Though presented as a way to ensure state government won't be shut down in July if the two sides fail to agree on a broader budget plan, the practical effect of doing so would all but guarantee a stalemate because there would be no incentive for GOP legislators to agree to spending any of the state's nearly $2 billion in surplus cash.
Hobbs has said she will veto the "skinny budget" if it reaches her desk.
"This budget is nothing more than a hollow political stunt and the Governor has no interest in a one-sided budget that lacks bipartisan input or negotiating," Hobbs' office said in a statement to the Arizona Mirror. "While the Governor's door is open to any legislator who wants to take seriously the real issues Arizona is facing, this do-nothing budget does nothing but kick the can down the road, and it's an insult to the Arizonans who elected both the governor and this Legislature to get to work addressing real issues… like making sure our schools don't lose $1.3 billion in funding if the legislature doesn't act by March 1st."
Democrats in the Senate panned the idea Tuesday.
"I think everyone is aware that this is a phony budget. It is an opportunity to tell the governor, 'We don't want to work with you,'" Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, said. "This is not the way we do business, and this is not the way we've done business in the past.
Democrats are expected to oppose the GOP budget if and when it is considered by the full Senate.
"It is just a power grab and a signal that you don't want to work with Democrats, and that you don't want to work with the governor," Alston said.
Republicans refuted her description of the spending plan as a "phony budget," instead portraying it as a way to continue Arizona's government open, keep state employees paid and protect the state from a possible impending recession.
"So, we are sending a budget in times of uncertainty, in what I dub a 'skinny budget,'" Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said. "This bill keeps the government running so we don't have a government shutdown, and I think it is a very responsible budget.
Democratic leaders in both the state House of Representatives and Senate issued statements condemning the "skinny budget," saying that Republican lawmakers need to negotiate on a budget instead of issuing a budget continuation.
"This is not the time for trivial games," Senate Democratic Leader Raquel Terán said in her statement. "It's time (for) Republicans to act their age and engage in good faith negotiations. Democrats are ready to step up and deliver policy and a budget that makes reality better for every Arizonan."
Democratic House Leader Andrés Cano said that Republican leaders are "afraid to sit across the table" from Gov. Hobbs and that they need to "grow up and join us around the negotiating table.
House Republicans tried to introduce their budget bills on Monday, but Democrats stymied them with a procedural move. On Tuesday, that chamber introduced the bills.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.