Arizona lawmakers head back on hiatus as budget talks move slowly
The day the Arizona Senate returned to work after a nearly two-week hiatus, the chamber announced it would adjourn until the middle of next week, a move GOP leaders said was aimed at continuing intensive work on negotiating and crafting a state budget.
The state House of Representatives is slated to return to work on Wednesday, but a spokesman said the chamber may join the Senate in breaking until May 3.
Both legislative chambers also have vacancies that haven’t yet been filled. The state House of Representatives earlier this month expelled Liz Harris for her role in a committee hearing in which government officials and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were accused of a litany of crimes. Harris claimed she was unaware of the speaker’s testimony, but evidence presented to the House Ethics Committee showed that she helped hide the testimony from GOP leaders.
And Democratic Sen. Raquel Terán resigned last week to focus on her bid for Congress.
Both vacancies will be filled by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which is evaluating the nominees selected for each position by precinct committeemen in the respective legislative districts.
Senate Republican spokeswoman Kim Quintero said the vacancies didn’t drive the nearly two-week-long break lawmakers just returned from, nor is it the reason for the upcoming eight-day-long break.
“We’re spending the time between now and then to work on the budget,” Quintero told the Arizona Mirror.
Tuesday marked the 107th day of the legislative session, which is designed to last for only 100 days. Lawmakers can meet indefinitely, though doing so requires procedural motions to be approved regularly — and it also means they receive less in per diem pay.
A Senate Democratic spokeswoman disputed that the goal of the break was to focus on the budget, instead positing that the real purpose was to give Maricopa County officials time to replace Harris. With her seat vacant, Republicans in the House only have 30 members, one short of the 31 votes needed to pass partisan legislation.
“That’s a colorful way of saying that they are waiting for Liz Hariss’ new appointment,” Senate Democratic spokeswoman Calli Jones said. “However, our caucus will be working on the budget with the Governor’s Office regardless of their timeline.”
A budget deal has to be reached in some form or another by June 30 or wide swaths of state government will shut down.
In a press release this week, Senate Republicans said they are “working diligently” on a bipartisan budget but said that “Democrats in the Legislature are dragging their feet.”
“We are just weeks away from some government agencies running out of funding because legislative Democrats are stalling,” said Senate President Warren Petersen in the press release. “I’m confident we would have already passed a budget had the Democrats spent the last seven weeks negotiating the budget with us, in good faith.”
Last year’s budget passed in the early morning hours of June 23.