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Republican lawmakers split on future of Arizona Commerce Authority

Debates over the future of the Arizona Commerce Authority have revealed a schism within the Republican Party at the Arizona Legislature. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Arizona House’s Appropriations Committee recommended keeping the state’s economic development agency around for at least another four years. 

Rep. Michael Carbone (R-Buckeye) acknowledged the ACA faced criticism from the attorney general for using public funds to wine and dine business executives considering moving to Arizona at CEO forums organized around popular events like the Super Bowl.

“I understand all the troubles or challenges we’ve experienced or the ACA has gone through, but those are growing pains,” Carbone said. “But I think it is a must-needed agency.”

But other Republicans on the committee, including Vice Chair Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale), voted against the continuation. He says he agrees with four Republicans on the Senate’s government committee, which recommended the agency be revised or consolidated.  

“I have a lot of questions about how the money is being spent, and I’m not going to rubber stamp a continuation of four years for the ACA in the absence of essential revisions, consolidation that would provide a more meaningful accountability to Arizona taxpayers,” Chaplik said.

The Senate Government Committee, led by Sen. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek), voted 4-3 on Jan. 17 in favor of that revision or consolidation recommendation. 

That vote also split Republicans, with Sen. Janae Shamp (R-Surprise) joining two Democrats on the committee in opposition to the motion. 

Hoffman has also sponsored a bill that would terminate the ACA completely.

Both the Senate and House votes followed reports that Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, told the ACA that its use of taxpayer money to fund the CEO forums violates the state Constitution. In response, the ACA said it will use mostly private funds for events related to the ongoing WM Phoenix Open golf tournament — changes that satisfied Mayes. 

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee supported the measure to continue the ACA for four years, largely agreeing with Republican supporters that the agency — despite issues pointed out by the attorney general and auditor general — is working in good faith to correct deficiencies and is an economic driver for the state.

But Rep. Seth Blattman (D-Mesa) said lawmakers shouldn’t limit the continuation to four years, saying “any type of shorter continuation will be working against the interest of our state.”  

State agencies are typically reviewed every eight to ten years, but Republican led committees have shortened that window for several high profile agencies this year, leading to accusations that they’re weaponizing the sunset review process for political purposes.

Committee chairman David Livingston (R-Peoria) said he is open to continuing the ACA for up to six years and vowed to lead negotiations with Senate leadership on a compromise to keep the economic development agency around.

Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.