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House Democrats Block Vote On GOP-Backed Budget

Published: Tuesday, June 22, 2021 - 3:10pm

After weeks of behind the scenes negotiations, Republican legislative leaders were poised to adopt a new state budget and massive income tax cut on Tuesday, only to be stymied by Democrats on a procedural technicality.

Republicans in the House were all prepared to vote for the budget Tuesday morning — but four GOP lawmakers were absent from the Capitol, opting instead to vote via Zoom.

That allowed the chamber’s Democrats to exploit a rule in the Arizona Constitution, which requires 31 lawmakers to be physically on the House floor to take any action. Democrats refused to come to the floor, denying a quorum and an opportunity for Republicans to advance the budget.

Minority Leader Reginald Bolding (D-Laveen) said the move was motivated not only by a desire to block the budget, but to ensure lawmakers could research last-minute amendments to the budget Republicans planned to adopt Tuesday morning.

"You can't simultaneously ignore the wishes of half the state and then take us for granted to pass a partisan budget," Bolding said in a statement. "The public and our members need more time to analyze the measures Republicans negotiated in secret and stuffed into their budget plan, and what the long-term implications will be for our state before we debate this.”

Republican leaders in the House vowed to return on Thursday, when GOP spokesman Andrew Wilder said all 31 Republican representatives should be present at the Capitol.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers was incensed by the maneuver, which he warned puts state services and state employee pay at risk. The fiscal year ends on June 30, and lawmakers risk a government shutdown if they can’t adopt a new spending plan before then.

“It may really be tough. But could we contemplate growing up and shouldering the responsibility together, and think of together more than individual and pass a budget?” Bowers said. “We’re going to try again Thursday.”

Democrats were quick to point out the budget hasn’t been crafted “together” — at least, not in a bipartisan sense. Though Republicans hold one-vote majorities in both chambers, they’ve crafted a budget by working to secure only GOP votes, Rep. Jennifer Longdon (D-Phoenix) said.

“For 163 days, while Republican leadership worked to mollify their most extreme members with budget pork, we’ve shown up ready to work on a commonsense budget,” she tweeted. “They refuse to engage.”

Meanwhile, the Senate pressed on Tuesday morning and into the afternoon with votes on budget amendments crafted to shore up Republicans’ support for the spending plan and income tax cut.

Sen. Paul Boyer (R-Glendale) has held out against the budget for weeks. But on Tuesday, Boyer told KJZZ he’ll vote for the spending plan now that Arizona cities and towns will be protected from a loss in revenue thanks to a plan to flatten income taxes.

Boyer reached a deal to reduce the size of the tax cut from $1.9 billion to $1.3 billion, at least initially — further tax cuts could be phased in over a three-year period, but only if Arizona’s economy grows strong enough to meet certain economic triggers. The deal also guarantees municipalities a larger portion of state revenue collections, a boost from 15% to 18%.

The adjustments were praised by 21 mayors on Monday, who announced they now support the budget.

The tax cut would gradually reduce Arizona’s income tax rate to 2.5% while also capping income taxes at 4.5%, a move specifically designed to shield wealthy Arizonans from a voter-approved 3.5% surcharge on income above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 a year for couples.