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With Arizona facing $400M shortfall, Dems call GOP plan 'budgeting with your eyes closed'

Over the next two years, Arizona faces a nearly $1 billion deficit, and some Republican lawmakers say they want to start addressing the issue immediately in the upcoming legislative session before considering any other bills. 

Last year, with a nearly $2 billion surplus, lawmakers were given allowances of millions of dollars and went on a spending spree. That method served as a way to get some Republicans on board with a bipartisan budget in a divided government where Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs has the power to veto budget plans. 

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, confirmed that without millions to spare, giving lawmakers money for pet projects doesn’t seem feasible. He said he has “no idea” how lawmakers will come together without the incentive. Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, echoed that the days of budgeting for a position of strength — with a surplus — are over.

“It will be more of a zero-based budget approach. We start from zero and have members add their priorities. Those who don’t participate don’t have their priorities protected,” Petersen said of his plan this year. 

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, the chair of the House Rules Committee, has one idea to incentivize lawmakers to negotiate a budget quickly. Grantham said he is considering “not advancing any bills through rules until a state budget is signed into law” to take away people’s bargaining chips. Bills can’t become laws without passing through the Rules Committee.

Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, indicated that he also wants to get the budget done fast. He and Kavanagh chair the House and Senate appropriations committees, which hold hearings on all budget bills. 

“I believe it would be in the best interest of the state for us to address the budget quickly and have a short session this year,” Livingston said.

But a spokesperson for Hobbs said in a text that postponing bills, as well as allowing pet projects, is a “nonstarter.” 

“Gov. Hobbs will continue to work with bipartisan leaders to move legislation forward on critical issues that the vast majority of Arizonans support,” said Christian Slater.

Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein also don’t want to rush to pass a budget early in session, before more thorough budget forecasts are available. 

“Putting a budget out before April is reckless. April is when we have our finance advisory committee. When we get those finalized numbers, it's, again, budgeting with your eyes closed,” Epstein said. 

Arizona’s shortfall is roughly $400 million this year alone, and likely more – the state’s next revenue forecasts will be released later this month. It’s a stark contrast to the surpluses Arizona has had for a few years, but Grantham doesn’t see the cuts as a terrible thing. 

“Governments have to find things to spend money on that … aren’t necessary,” he said. “When you have too much money, it becomes the new minimum.”

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Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.