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Arizona Lawmakers Continue Budget Standoff, Audit Tally

By Ben Giles, Lauren Gilger
Published: Thursday, June 3, 2021 - 12:42pm

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Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas
Jeremy Stahl/Pool
Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 13, 2021, in Phoenix.

The Arizona Legislature is on deadline.

Lawmakers have until the end of June to pass a spending plan for the state in the new fiscal year that starts on July 1, and Gov. Doug Ducey isn’t pleased with how long the process is taking.

The Show spoke with KJZZ’s Ben Giles to fill us in on what’s happening at the Capitol and to update us on the Arizona Senate’s controversial audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 ballots.

LAUREN GILGER: So this audit has been going on over a month now. Lawmakers from other states are now taking notice. Yesterday, you reported on a handful of Pennsylvania legislators who got a personal tour of the audit. Should we expect to see an Arizona-style audit in the Keystone State soon?

BEN GILES: Yes, according to two of those Pennsylvania lawmakers. There were three — two state senators, one representative — who met with Arizona Republicans at the Capitol, then got briefed by Cyber Ninjas — that’s the firm Senate President Karen Fann hired to run this whole thing. Two of those lawmakers spoke with reporters inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and they both said they’d love to replicate what’s happening in Maricopa County back in their home state. Pennsylvania isn’t the only state where Republicans have taken notice of this Arizona election review. There’s been calls for similar work to be done in Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin.

GILGER: And Fann has called this a quote “gold standard” of an audit, but you’ve reported many times that critics of course say this is anything but.

GILES: And a big reason they say that is because the scope and methodology of the audit have changed so much, sometimes on the daily. For example, the firm originally hired as subcontractor to run the recount of nearly 2.1 million ballots, that subcontractor dropped out in May. They've had to bring new people in. Now they say they’ve counted more than 1.2 million ballots, but it’s still not clear if they're on pace to finish by the end of the month. That’s when their latest rental agreement at the Coliseum expires.

GILGER: OK And now, Ben, now let's shift back to the Capitol. Arizona lawmakers tried and failed to pass a budget last week, and Gov. Ducey responded by going on a veto-spree. He killed 22 bills that lawmakers had sent him. And some of those bills were priorities for conservative lawmakers, even some things individual Republicans demanded he sign in exchange for their support of the budget. So what’s the response been to all of this from lawmakers at the Capitol?

GILES: They are not exactly happy. And there’s actually something for everyone to be mad about in these vetoes. Many of the bills passed with broad bipartisan support. There was a measure, for example, to provide emergency shelter beds to homeless seniors. There was another measure that would tweak regulations in the state's marijuana industry. Democrats and Republicans supported that. Some of the bills, as you mentioned, were very partisan in nature. Republicans backed legislation that would ban state employees from taking cultural or racial sensitivity training. There was also a bill to make it a crime for county officials to mail early ballots to voters who didn’t ask for one, one of those so-called "election integrity" bills Republicans have clamored for this year.

GILGER: Does this strategy work?

GILES: The short answer is, it depends. There is precedent for vetoing bills to try to light a fire, so toe speak, under the Legislature and get a budget out. But it usually comes with some sort of warning first. Former Gov. Jan Brewer did that back in 2014. She told lawmakers, "No more bills are getting signed until you send me a budget." She issued the same warning in 2012, and that gave the Legislature an opportunity, rather than get their bills vetoed, they just stopped sending her bills. That has the same effect, without actually having to veto anything. It's also worth noting those warnings have typically come earlier in the legislative session. In 2012, Brewer put lawmakers on notice in April. It’s of course June. There’s not much time left, so it makes sense for Ducey to try to motivate lawmakers to get a something done. But it's worth nothing that he isn't reaching across the aisle to get a budget done. He's trying to convince every Republican in the Legislature to pass a spending plan, and he's got no room for error. Republicans have one-vote majorities in both chambers.

GILGER: That's right. So are we gonna see some of these bills come back, then?

GILES: Probably. And just because this is the biggest batch of bills we’ve seen Ducey issue a sweeping veto of at once, and there are lawmakers who will certainly agitate for at least some of these bills to get a second chance. Bills that were a priority for certain Republicans, for example, I’m sure will return. There was also a bill that simply made technical corrections to laws passed a year ago. It's something of an annual cleanup effort. Something like that will likely pass. The question remains, though, how? How will these bills return? The Legislature has never voted to override a Ducey veto. I can’t even remember them overriding one of Brewer’s vetoes, either. They could amend these bills onto new bills, but the fastest and simplest might be an override.

GILGER: All right. Well, we’re sure you’ll keep us up to date when these lawmakers make their moves.

GILES: Thank you.

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