Arizona legislature 100 days into session filled with vetoes & partisan fighting
Still, there’s optimism budget agreement is just around the corner
As the Arizona legislature reached its 100-day mark on Tuesday, lawmakers have yet to reach a budget deal and it has proven to be one of the most trying legislative sessions for Capitol veterans and newcomers alike.
Not since the administration of Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, who took office in 2003 and resigned in January 2009, has the legislature and executive been controlled by different parties.
But now, with a more conservative legislature and Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, the politics at the Capitol have been upended. The result has been the one-vote GOP majorities sending a slew of bills to Hobbs, knowing she’ll veto them. After 99 days, she had vetoed 52 bills — only a handful shy of the record 58 bills that Napolitano vetoed in 2005. Tuesday afternoon, she announced 11 more vetoes, giving her the most bill rejections in Arizona history.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say it is the most impersonal, angry session that many people have ever experienced,” Chuck Coughlin, president of public affairs firm HighGround, told the Arizona Mirror. Many lawmakers have been “generally unwilling to listen” and “personal ideology” has gotten in the way.
“It is a harder session than it has been in the past because of that,” Coughlin said. Even veterans of the legislature have been saying the same thing to him, he added.
Groups such as the newly formed Arizona Freedom Caucus, which mirrors the far-right one in Washington, D.C., have created new voting blocs that advocate for hard-right policies within their own party. But the phenomenon isn’t exclusive to the right, Coughlin said.
“(The Democratic Party) has moved to the left, as well, as the result of the last election,” Coughlin said. “It is a very difficult environment to try to get common-sense things done.”
But in the first 100 days, there have been successes.
So far, Hobbs has signed 92 bills in addition to the vetoes.
Some of the bills that have been signed include preventing an HOA from prohibiting door-to-door political activity, a bill to help mobile home park residents, a bill that prohibits text messages to numbers on the do-not-call list and a bill aimed at hospital pricing transparency.
Hobbs has also vetoed a number of bills that has drawn the ire of Republican lawmakers but has garnered cheers from her Democratic supporters. Among those are bills aimed at culture war issues popular among conservatives, such as immigration and abortion.
Hobbs’ earliest vetoes were of the Republican “skinny budget,” a proposal that was a continuation of last year’s bipartisan budget that was being sold by GOP lawmakers as a way to ensure economic stability for the state as the nation was bracing for a possible economic recession.
One of the main lawmakers who led that charge, Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that he feels that these 100 days have been productive “up until the vetoes began to pile up.”
“I understand the governor vetoing highly partisan Republican bills, but she has also vetoed others,” Kavanagh said. “It will be problematic if the governor begins vetoing non-partisan bills just because she dislikes them. She does have the option of allowing them to become law without a signature.”
The one constitutional requirement of every legislative session is that lawmakers approve a budget for the state government. How much progress is being made toward that depends on who you ask. Kavanagh, for one, struck an optimistic tone.
“I like what Republicans have proposed thus far,” Kavanagh told the Mirror about budget negotiations. “So long as the governor and (Democrats) keep toxic items out, as they appear to be willing to do, we should have a budget soon.”
“The negotiations are going surprisingly well,” he added. “I am optimistic that we will have a budget in a couple of weeks.”
Arizona must have a budget passed before July 1 or else the government will shut down.
“Deadlines have an amazing way of being able to focus the mind,” Coughlin said, adding that he thinks lawmakers will likely reach a budget deal late at night by the end of June. Last year’s budget passed in the early morning hours of June 23.
When asked if he believed that the session could go beyond July 1, Kavanagh responded with a simple “no.” Republican and Democratic leaders in both the state House of Representatives and Senate did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Hobbs’ administration initially said it would provide comments, but did not do so by deadline.
Coughlin said that Democratic legislators could end up being a wrench in negotiations for the Hobbs administration, as well, in the coming weeks. He said that legislative Democrats are not used to “answering to the executive” and may not be willing to negotiate on demands made by Republican lawmakers.
“They’re just not going to genuflect to the governor. They’re going to want their priorities,” Coughlin said. “They’re both not very respectful to seniority or title.”
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.