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Globe Republican David Cook votes against flat-tax proposal, scuttling GOP budget

House Republicans’ effort to force through a budget fell short again as GOP Rep. David Cook continued his opposition over a massive income tax cut package.

GOP leadership scheduled a vote for Monday on the budget and a slew of amendments intended to shore up support among a handful of holdouts, essentially daring Republicans to vote against it. Among the changes was an adjustment to the formula used to distribute state income tax revenue to cities and towns, which would partially offset the municipal revenue loss anticipated from the income tax cuts negotiated by House leadership and Gov. Doug Ducey.

The change, however, wasn’t enough to win over Cook, who has argued that the small cities in his largely rural district can’t afford the revenue losses they’ll incur from the tax cut. Arizona cities are barred from enacting local income taxes, so the state instead shares a portion of its income taxes. The League of Arizona Cities and Towns estimates that the proposed income tax cuts will reduce the amount sent to cities by 31%, and will result in cuts to city services and public safety.

The Globe Republican signaled his opposition early, opening the day’s debate by aggressively questioning a fellow GOP representative over whether he and other members had enough time to review the amendments, openly siding with opposition Democrats who raised similar questions.

But Cook made it clear that his objections were primarily rooted in the substance of the tax cuts. He raised the specter of the infamous debacle in Kansas, when a massive 2012 tax cut package triggered years of budget cuts and other fiscal woes, ultimately forcing that state’s Republican legislature to repeal many of the cuts.

The budget plan would replace Arizona’s graduated income tax brackets with a single 2.5% rate. It also imposes a cap of 4.5% on the percentage any Arizonan would be required to pay in income taxes, which is aimed at nullifying part of the effect of Proposition 208, a measure voters approved in November to impose a 3.5% surcharge on Arizonans who earn at least $250,000 annually as individuals or $500,000 as couples. That money will go to fund public schools and increase teacher salaries.

Rather than pass or fail the amendments and the underlying bills on a voice vote, which is customary when legislative chambers hear bills in committee of the whole, Democrats called for division, meaning each individual lawmaker’s vote would be recorded by counting the people standing on the chamber floor. The result was 30-30 votes on both the bill and the amendment, ensuring their defeat, as Cook sided with the Democrats.

Rather than vote on all 11 budget bills, Republican leadership pulled the plug on the day’s proceedings after two. Even without enough votes to pass the budget, the day wasn’t a total wash for GOP leaders, who put Cook on record voting against the two bills that would have enacted the tax cut package.

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As he sparred with Majority Leader Ben Toma, one of the chief architects of the tax cut package, Cook again reiterated the short timespan he and other lawmakers had to consider such a major change. When Toma, R-Peoria, asked if he had a question, Cook replied, “Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Mr. Cook, lots of things bother me. Cutting taxes isn’t one of them,” Toma said.

“Do you think I don’t want to cut taxes?” Cook responded

“I think we’re about to find out,” Toma shot back.

Cook was not swayed: “You wanted me here on record. I’m here.”

The House is set to return June 10, as is the state Senate. Whether a budget is considered when lawmakers return will hinge on if GOP leaders can find a way to mollify Cook without alienating conservative Republicans who have balked at dozens of smaller-ticket spending items in the budget and have threatened to withhold their votes, as well.

But even if Cook were to support the budget, there’s no guarantee that will improve the budget’s chances in the Senate, where Republicans Paul Boyer and Michelle Ugenti-Rita have said they oppose the spending plan. Like Cook, Boyer is concerned about the massive income tax cut — projected at $1.9 million annually once fully implemented — and the effect it will have on cities, while Ugenti-Rita has said she cannot support the increase in spending.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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Arizona State Legislature

Rep. David L. Cook, R-Globe.