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Legislative Democrats at odds with Hobbs over $18 billion budget deal

In committee hearing votes, all but one Democrat opposed a budget negotiated by Gov. Katie Hobbs with the Republican majority in the Arizona Legislature.

The party-line vote in the Senate — and near party-line vote in the House — sent GOP lawmakers scurrying to see if any last-minute changes are needed to shore up support for the $17.8 billion budget.

The Senate is expected to begin floor voting on the budget Tuesday evening. The House is scheduled to return to the floor for votes Wednesday morning.

Some eleventh hour Democratic demands are unlikely to be met, like a bid to cap unrestricted vouchers  for private and parochial school tuition. But Democrats are also unhappy that a plan Hobbs initially crafted to provide state aid to the poor has been converted by Republicans — with the governor’s consent — into an income tax credit that gives no benefits to the neediest Arizonans.

It’s now an open question whether or not any Democratic lawmakers will ultimately support the package of 16 budget bills. 

However, support from the minority party may not even be necessary.

Christian Slater, a press aide to Hobbs, told Capitol Media Services the governor stands behind the budget deal she struck with GOP leadership, regardless of objections from members of her own party.

“She negotiated a budget that makes historic investments in housing, education, infrastructure and child healthcare in a divided government,'” Slater said. 

He also said the package has “critical accountability measures” for empowerment scholarship accounts, the formal name for the vouchers of tax dollars available for students to attend private and parochial schools regardless of financial need.

“We believe everybody, regardless of party, can support these critical policies that will directly help everyday Arizonans and call on members of the Legislature to join together and pass this budget,” Slater said. 

And he took a swat at those trying to pull the deal apart.

“Arizonans want elected officials to be practical leaders, not bickering politicians,” Slater said.

Rep. David Livingston (R-Peoria) said Democratic lawmakers may have no one but themselves to blame if they don't like what's in the package. Livingston, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, acknowledged the negotiations were a three-sided deal, with the governor, House Republican leadership and Senate Republican leaders.

And what of the 29 Democratic representatives and 14 Democratic senators?

“They had the governor's voice,” Livingston said. And that, he said, was their choice.

“I met with a number of Democrats in the House and requested their ‘asks,’” he said. “And the Democrat leadership decided not to do that.”

The package does include things Democrats want, like scrapping a program started under Republican Gov. Doug Ducey that awarded extra cash to high-performing schools. Instead, those dollars — about $68 million — will be divided up on a per-student basis among all schools.

On top of that there is a one-time $300 million infusion for K-12 schools.

Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) noted the package includes a lot of money for infrastructure, mainly roads and state highways, including programs that have bipartisan support like widening Interstates 10 and 17.

That doesn't mean there are no special interest provisions in the $17.8 billion spending plan.

“Everything in the budget was designed to bring votes,” Livingston said.