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This week at the Arizona Capitol: Hobbs starts hiring freeze to help balance state budget

Arizona lawmakers will contend with abortion and the state budget when they return to the Capitol on Wednesday.

As he does every Monday during the legislative session, Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services joined The Show to talk about what to expect this week.

Interview highlights

The Arizona Senate started the process to repeal the 1864 near-total ban on abortion in the state, but in the House, not enough Republicans went against House Speaker Ben Toma, a Republican, to bring the repeal to a vote. Any reason to think that's going to change on Wednesday?

HOWIE FISCHER: Oh, I don't see any particular reason. I found a lot of Republican lawmakers who said, you know, if the thing gets on the board — in other words, if you can get the motion to, as you say, roll the speaker and allow it to come up — they will vote for it. People like Justin Wilmeth said he would vote for it. But actually getting folks to be that 31st vote to put it on the board is proven tricky. A lot of folks say, “This is procedural and do we really want a monkey with our own leadership?”

So far, only Republican Matt Gress has been willing to, to take that step. There's been a lot of pressure on Rep. Tim Dunn from Yuma to be that person. I think Tim has said that he supports repealing the old law, but pushing them over the edge may be a whole another matter.

I think the longer this goes on and the closer we get to June 8, which is the date that Attorney General Kris Mayes says the old law could be enforced, there'll be a lot of pressure on folks to say, do we really want to go back to where we were pre-1973?

It sounds as though there is some work on the state budget going on. But Gov. Katie Hobbs is starting to sort of take matters into her own hands with basically setting up a hiring freeze for state employees.

FISCHER: Well, I think there's a recognition that we have to have a balanced budget by the end of the fiscal year. That is June 30. Now, that doesn't give us a lot of time to come up with maybe $800 million to save, particularly when a lot of the budget is off-limits. I mean, look, state aid to education is about $7 billion out of an $18 billion budget. The AHCCCS, the Medicaid program, is about $2.5 billion. Corrections is about $1.5 billion. And I don't know that there's a lot of flexibility there.

So she started off saying, “Look, don't fill any positions that you don't have filled now and give me a plan to cut 4% of your spending between now and the end of the year.” That doesn't get us all the way. I mean, even the governor admits it's about $1.2 billion over the two years, and they really need about $1.8 billion.

But I think that she recognizes that given how long this all takes, we need to do something and we need to do it soon.

The closer we get to June 30, the harder it becomes to cut from the current fiscal year.

FISCHER: Exactly. And that's what's led in the past to, to gimmicks. For example, you can take the bills that are due on in June, and you can throw them into the next fiscal year. We still owe the money, for example, to schools. We will have to pay it to them in July. We will have to pay it to them with interest. But look, “Hey, we've got a balanced budget, it's magic!” And we've done that in the past where we've moved around payments and such. And if it gets down to that point, I think we'll see some maneuvers like that. But is it a real solution? Well, obviously not.

Well, so what do negotiations look like between the governor's office and legislative leaders? Does it seem as though they're agreeing on what might need to be trimmed?

FISCHER: I think there's an agreement that ... the Republicans are not going to scale back universal vouchers. You know, maybe there's some tinkering that can be done with some of the expenditures, how the money can be spent. Can you buy a baby grand piano with a voucher? But that's coins in the couch.

I think it's got to come down to the question of where do we cut? Remember, a lot of this may be due to the fact that we, we cut $2.5 billion out of revenue with this flat tax. That changed everything. Two years ago, we had a $2 billion surplus. Well, I got news for you: If you keep increasing expenditures, if you keep decreasing the amount of money coming in. Plus on the top of that, you have economic conditions. We have mortgage rates that now top 7%, that is going to go ahead and slow home building. We have slower retail because folks are looking at, do they want to take on additional credit card debt? Well, that affects sales taxes, which is almost half of the state budget.

And so there are a lot of moving parts to it, and I don't think anybody really has a good handle. I think they've sort of said “Ruh-roh, now what do we do?”

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.