AZ Senate votes on bills; recesses until June for budget discussions - AZEdNews
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AZ Senate votes on bills; recesses until June for budget discussions


Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales Speaks About A Bill During A Senate Discussion On May 27, 2021. Photo Courtesy Of Arizona Capitol Television

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Updated May 27, 2021: The Arizona Senate voted on three controversial bills today before recessing until June when they’ll return to discuss budget bills. The Arizona House recessed today and will reconvene in June as well.

Earlier today during a floor session that began around 11:45 a.m., the Senate voted on three controversial billsHB 2792 that would jail county election officials who mail ballots to people who haven’t requested them, SB 1074 which bans conversion therapy bans, and SB 1532 that bans teaching controversial issues.

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann said late Wednesday evening that the House may remain recessed until after Memorial Day weekend or possibly until June 10, but that she hopes to pass the budget out of the Senate on Thursday, The Asoociated Press reports.

Education advocates are opposed to the $12.8 billion budget proposal crafted by Republican Legislative leadership in collaboration with Gov. Doug Ducey, because the 2.5% flat tax and other tax cuts proposed would reduce state revenues by 25% and severely impact funding for public schools.

Click here for an ASBA summary of the proposed FY22 Budget

Click here for an ASBA spreadsheet of the appropriations

The Arizona League of Cities and Towns is also concerned about the impact of the flat tax and the tax cuts and how that will affect services that residents rely on.

Several Republican Legislators have expressed their concern about the level of spending in the bills, and They and all Democratic Legislators are also concerned about how the proposed 2.5% flat tax and other tax cuts will impact cities and towns and their ability to provide services to residents and the state’s long-term financial stability, The Associated Press reports.

Senate budget discussions was delayed yesterday when Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita was not there when the Committee of the Whole met that afternoon, ABC 15 Arizona reported.

Because there are 16 Republicans and 14 Democrats in the senate, if one Republican is not there or does not vote for the budget bills then compromises will need to be made to get support of some Democratic Legislators.

That evening, Sen. Ugenti-Rita announced she will seek the Republican nomination for Secretary of State, The Arizona Republic reports.

In addition, Arizona Legislators are trying to raise their daily reimbursement rates with an strike everything amendment to House Bill 2052, something they have tried to do before unsuccessfully, azfamily reports. Currently, lawmakers who reside outside Maricopa County receive $60 a day for gas, lodging and other expenses while Maricopa County lawmakers receive $35 per day. The measure received an initial approval during a voice vote late Wednesday in the Arizona Senate, The Associated Press reports.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard started the session with a proclamation for Dr. Camille Casteel who is retiring this year as Chandler Unified School District Superintendent after 50 years of service to the school district.

Next, Sen. Christine Marsh read a declaration makes that the final week of May 2021 as Asian American and Pacific Islander History Week.

Then a third reading of bills began as work on amendment language continued, said Senate President Karen Fann.

Senators approved HB 2792 on a party line vote of 16 ayes and 14 nays and with that the Permanent Early Voting List is no more. The bill will be transmitted to the House.

On Senate Bill 1074, senators voted 16 to 14 to approve the bill.

Senate Bill 1532 was defeated by a vote of 16 nays to 14 ayes.

Sen. Martin Quezada said if anybody needs this type of antiracism, critical race theory, and equity training “it is people in this very room.”

“What we absolutely need more of these conversations,” Sen. Quezada said as he voted no on the bill. “When we ban training on these, we perpetuate this in our community.”

Sen. Kelly Townsend said she supported the bill that prevents training that includes blame or judgement on race or sex and the spending of public money on it and voted for the bill.

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales said “These conversations are not easy, but they are historically in our midst in government, schools and the workplace. We cannot get rid of racism in this country unless we first acknowledge it, talk about it and come up with solutions to get rid of it.”

Then Sen. Gonzales voted no.

Sen. Paul Boyer said “I’ve been struggling with this bill, because I don’t think that people who prosecute felonies and racketeering should be monitoring our classrooms.”

Sen. Boyer voted no on the bill.

Sen. David Livingston said he’d like to meet with Senators to amend the bill to come up with a solution that will meet a consensus then changed his vote to no on the bill.

Then President Fann moved to reccess until 2 p.m. as amendment language continued to be worked on for the budget bills.

Shortly after 2:30 p.m., the Senate recessed until June – like the House – and will return then to discuss the budget bills.

Updated May 26, 2021: Arizona Legislators discussed budget bills today that education advocates oppose because the tax cuts proposed would severely impact funding for public schools.

There may be a several floor amendments on the budget bills today as they are discussed on the House and Senate floor, said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations associate for Arizona School Boards Association.

Click here for an ASBA summary of the proposed FY22 Budget

Click here for an ASBA spreadsheet of the appropriations

As the Arizona Legislature considers a state budget containing a 2.5% flat income tax proposal, which would slash more than $1.9 billion from state revenue, a new statewide phone poll of 400 voters between May 20 to May 23, 2021, shows they prefer more investments in education and Arizona’s cities and towns

The Arizona League of Cities and Towns is also concerned about the impact of the flat tax and the tax cuts that will impact services residents rely on.

Education advocates have voiced their opposition to the budget proposal, because the tax cuts proposed would severely impact funding for public schools.

Save Our Schools Arizona and Arizona Education Association held budget watch rallies on the lawn in front of the Arizona Senate at the Arizona State Capitol yesterday and today demanding that Legislators prioritize education and fully fund schools.

AEA Vice President Marisol Garcia said some legislators will bring educators into the gallery as the budget bills are being discussed today “to watch what’s happening and make sure that they see folks in red, red shirts and remind them that our students, quite frankly, are the most important resource in this state.”

“This bill is not going to help our students. This tax cut will not help anyone but the top 1%. And the voters made it clear when they passed Invest in Ed, we need to be protecting our schools and not finding a run-around or a cut that will hurt our communities and our schools,” Garcia said.

While the House Floor session remains on break at 1 p.m., the Senate Floor session is in progress.

We are not respecting our constituents by not allowing them to view proceedings, Sen. Martin Quezada during the Senate Floor Session.

Sen. President Karen Fann said this morning she had requests from members for 99 guests in the gallery and decided to keep COVID-19 guidelines and keep the galleries closed.

The budget bills third reading is scheduled later today and the House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m.

The Senate is took a break at 2:30 p.m. before going to caucus.

Yesterday, the House Appropriations committee passed the K-12 budget bill by a vote of 7-6 and the Senate Appropriations committee passed the K-12 budget bill by a vote of 7-4.

Updated May 25, 2021: Arizona Legislators discussed the budget bills during House and Senate Appropriations Committee Meetings that began early today and are now in caucus meetings to learn more about the budget bills. Watch the meetings live in the embedded videos below.

The House Appropriations committee passed the K-12 budget bill by a vote of 7-6 and the Senate Appropriations committee passed the K-12 budget bill by a vote of 7-4.

The budget bills will head to the floor tomorrow, where there may be a few floor amendments on the budget as a whole, said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations associate for Arizona School Boards Association.

Click here for an ASBA summary of the proposed FY22 Budget

Click here for an ASBA spreadsheet of the appropriations

Legislators plan for the budget bills to go to floor readings, caucuses, the Committee of the Whole and House Rules today and the Arizona Legislature remains in session.

While some Republican Legislators hope to pass the budget bills on Thursday, but several Republicans and many Democrats have expressed their dissatisfaction with the budget proposal crafted by legislative leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey.

The budget bills include: House Bill 2891 budget procedures and budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2892 capital outlay budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2893 criminal justice budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2894 environment budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2895 general appropriations act 2021-2022; HB 2896 health budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2897 higher education budget reconciliation for 2021-2022 ; HB 2898 K-12 education budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2899 revenue budget reconciliation for 2021-2022 ; HB 2900 omnibus taxation; HB 2901 transportation budget reconciliation for 2021-2022.

As the Arizona Legislature considers a state budget containing a 2.5% flat income tax proposal, which would slash more than $1.9 billion from state revenue, a new statewide phone poll of 400 voters between May 20 to May 23, 2021, shows they prefer more investments in education and Arizona’s cities and towns

The latest live caller poll conducted by HighGround Public Affairs indicates that 63.3% of likely voters choose investing more in schools and municipalities while 30% support cutting income taxes.

The HighGround Public Affairs polling report shows there is no flat tax coalition and a majority of Arizona voters do not support the 2.5% flat tax that Republican Arizona Legislators and Gov. Doug Ducey have included in the budget bills.

AZ Senate votes on bills; recesses until June for budget discussions High-Ground-Flat-Tax-Polling-2021-05-24-at-2.05.39-PM-1024x774
HighGround polling results chart

Paul Bentz with HighGround said local governments, which provide the greatest number of daily services, remain popular among voters and no issue can survive without a coalition of support.

“For an issue to win, it must pick up significant support from the two parties as well as a clear majority of independent and unaffiliated voters,” Bentz said. 

“Our latest survey demonstrates that the current budget proposal and the associated flat tax does not reach these thresholds,” Bentz said.  “Worse, it harms popular local government for the sake of cutting taxes which is an issue well down on the list of priorities among the electorate.”

Earlier in the House Appropriations Committee Meeting

During discussion of the House Bill 2895 general appropriations bill, Rep. Aaron Lieberman said it was embarrassing that $5 million would be allocated for a horse racing purse to be offered by several non profits, but that there was no money allocated to help grandparents and other kinship foster care.

Rep. Michelle Udall asked that support for kinship foster care be discussed and added to the budget bill.

Rep. Joanne Osborne said there is some more support for kinship care families in the budget.

Click here to see a summary on general appropriations for the House Appropriations Committee.

Amanda Steele, mother of a son with autism who recently finished his final year of high school and entered a transition program, asked Arizona Legislators to provide full funding for early intervention programs that provide therapies and education support to help individuals with disabilities that help them reach their full potential and special education services.

AZ Senate votes on bills; recesses until June for budget discussions The AZ Early Intervention Program for families of infants and toddlers, birth to three years, with disabilities or delays is currently under-funded by $14.3 million per year, Steele said. This is part of a yearly funding shortfall up to $150 million for the Department of Developmental Disabilities, Steele said.

K-12 special education services are under-funded by more than $100 million per year, Steele said. Special education funding allocations have not been updated in 14 years. Some disability categories like Dyslexia and ADHD only receive $15 per year per student, Steele said.

“Arizona’s elected leaders should fully fund special education services, especially not given the $1.5 billion surplus,” Steele said.

As the roll was called for votes, Rep. Charlene Fernandez said she thought the $5 million allocation for the horse racing purse was embarassing when just $1.5 million was allocated for early intervention for students before they enter kindergarteners.

“Is this a statement of our values that we values horses more than our kids and that we value gambling over our future workforce?” asked Rep. Fernandez as she voted no on HB 2895 the general appropriations bill.

“We have a constitutional responsibility to care for our developmentally disabled built into the constitution and we haven’t met those needs,” Rep. Lieberman said.

Instead of funding universal pre-K and a program to help high performing students attend community college for free, the budget prioritizes other things and “puts our hard earned dollars to other options,” Rep. Lieberman said.

Rep. Udall said she appreciates the increased funding for special education and gifted education in the bill, but was concerned not to not see the kinship stipend increase, the STEM accelerators for community colleges, the Excel Centers in the final budget and would like to discuss adding them, then she voted to support the bill.

“I’m hopeful that leadership will come and work with 25% of the caucus and have a reasonable conversation and support a budget we can all be supportive of,” said Rep. Jake Hoffman as he voted against the bill.

AZ Senate votes on bills; recesses until June for budget discussions Regina-Cobb-5-25-2021-1024x571
House Appropriations Chair Regina Cobb during discussion of the general appropriations budget bill on May 25, 2021. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

“This came out of months of work and we need to look at this through a larger lens not a tunnel and see what’s good for our constituents,” House Appropriations Chair Rep. Regina Cobb. “We have a surplus. Our priority was giving it back to the taxpayers.”

With a vote of 7 ayes and 6 nays, the House Appropriations Committee approved HB 2895 general appropriations.

Higher education bill discussion

Click here to see a summary on the higher education budget for the House Appropriations Committee.

Discussion of House Bill 2897 the higher education budget reconciliation 2021-2022 bill has begun.

To qualify for the Arizona Promise Program, a student has to be an in-state student who graduated from an Arizona high school with a 2.5 GPA, meet the requirements to be eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches establish financial need, complete a FAFSA and enroll in ASU, NAU and U of A for the scholarship program. The program would require the institution to provide each eligible student with an award of the actual cost of in-state tuition and fees of a baccalaureate program.

“There’s definitely some promising things here, I think the America Promise program is a good thing,” Rep. Lieberman said as he voted no. “This is a step in the right direction but we need a whole lot more.”

Rep Judy Schwiebert said we need to be investing in our community colleges and university, “so we can indeed attract the type of businesses we want here in Arizona.”

Rep. Udall said she was concerned about a change in funding for the universities and hoped that could be reconsidered.

With a vote of 7 ayes and 6 nays, the House Appropriations Committee approved HB 2897 higher education.

K-12 education budget bill discussion

Discussion of House Bill 2898 the K-12 education budget reconciliation 2021-2022 bill, is happening now.

Click here to see a summary on the K-12 education budget for the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Lieberman asked what the budget requires of school enrollment boundaries.

AZ Senate votes on bills; recesses until June for budget discussions Rep-Leiberman-5-25-2021-1024x569
Rep. Aaron Lieberman during discussion of the K-12 education budget bill May 25, 2021. Photo Courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

“You are guaranteed enrollment in your neighborhood if you are in that zone?” Rep Lieberman asked.

“No,” said Rep. Cobb.

Rep. Steve Kaiser said this makes open enrollment easier and more clear for parents. “There’s also the requirements of what you need to submit to each school district to make it clear across the board.”

Rep. Fernandez said in an area like Yuma there is no public transportation like light rail and getting an Uber is difficult.

Rep. Fernandez said she did not support “taking dollars away from school transportation departments to provide money for people who use school choice to take their child to another school” and take an Uber to school.

AZ Senate votes on bills; recesses until June for budget discussions Rep-Michelle-Udall-5-25-2021-1024x583
Rep. Michelle Udall dicusses the K-12 education budget bill May 25, 2021. Photo Courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

“When there’s five or 10 students over bus capacity, this is a situation where they can use an in-lieu of grant,” said Rep. Udall. “It leaves it up to the district or charter what way they’ll address it.”

“School districts are trying to save every buck that they can,” Rep. Fernandez said. “Every school district in my area is doing more with less.”

“School leaders brought this to us, Not the Legislature,” Chair Cobb said.

AZ Senate votes on bills; recesses until June for budget discussions Mark-Barnes-ASA-5-23-2021-1024x584
Mark Barnes with Arizona School Administrators

Mark Barnes with Arizona Schools Administrators said, “There’s some really good stuff in this budget the additional special education funding we’ve been working on for years and increases to the school facilities board budget.”

“All schools and charters had to set up distance learning this year,” Barnes said. “Unfortunately all that distance learning, which is funded under the Arizona Online Instruction model only provides 95% of brick and mortar student funding.”

“I’d like you to include in this budget an item in the bill that would categorize these students as traditional brick and mortar schools,” Barnes said.

Jay Caprosi with Goodwill of Arizona requested that as this budget moves forward that Arizona Legislators to consider a one time investment in workforce programs and their Excel Center concept that they’ve shared with Legislators before that help people get their vocational training and training at community colleges.

“I am looking for a budget bill to support,” Rep. Fernandez said as she voted no on the bill.

“We need to give out kids every option to choose the best schools that we can,” Rep. Kaiser said.

“Seeing my kids in masks is very upsetting to me,” Rep. Kaiser said. “We should not allow school boards to decide if student need to wear masks. That is a parent decision.”

Rep. Lieberman said common sense stuff that works for our schools are in this bill such as the increased special education funding, but even during the pandemic we’re dealing with other issues including the teacher shortage and public money going to private schools.

“What Arizonans want is more spending for our public schools that a majority send their children too,” Rep. Lieberman said before voting no on the bill.

“I’m concerned we’re not adequately funding our schools,” said Rep. Judy Schwiebert. “I feel like we have broken our promise in the constitution for not doing these things.”

“With the surplus that we have this year, we need to be making more investments in our public school system,” Rep. Schwiebert said. “Because this bill does not go far enough, my vote is no.”

Rep. Udall said the increase in Group B funding weights for special education students is something they’ve been working on for years and it will greatly help schools.

Rep Udall also said the increase in funding for new schools will help schools as they increase capacity be able to build schools quickly and efficiently.

“There are some things I love in here, and there are some things I don’t,” Rep. Udall said as she voted for the bill.

With a vote of 7 ayes and 6 nays, the House Appropriations Committee approved HB 2898 K-12 education budget.

In addition, the budget bills are also being discussed during the Senate Appropriations Committee Meeting that began at 9 a.m. today.

After those meetings conclude, caucuses are scheduled at 1 p.m. followed by Committee of the Whole, final reading #1.

Updated May 24, 2021: Arizona Republican Legislators introduced a budget proposal today, in the House Rules Committee with tax cuts that education advocates say would severely impact funding for public schools.

The budget bills include: House Bill 2891 budget procedures and budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2892 capital outlay budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2893 criminal justice budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2894 environment budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2895 general appropriations act 2021-2022; HB 2896 health budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2897 higher education budget reconciliation for 2021-2022 ; HB 2898 K-12 education budget reconciliation for 2021-2022; HB 2899 revenue budget reconciliation for 2021-2022 ; HB 2900 omnibus taxation; HB 2901 transportation budget reconciliation for 2021-2022.

“Members, pursuant to House Rules 8C, permission for late introduction of measures relating to the budget is granted,” said House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Becky Nutt during the meeting after 1:30 p.m. today.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee provides this detailed information about what’s in the budget bills as they were introduced in the House Rules Committee meeting today the Arizona Legislature today in FY 2022 Budget Bills as Introduced.

“Budgets reflect our values as a state, and this budget proposal that essentially slashes taxes for those at the top at the expense of the middle and working-class families and their children says a lot about how our state views their needs,” Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “This is really taking us in a negative direction.”

Save Our Schools Arizona plans to hold budget watch rallies on the lawn in front of the Arizona Senate at the Arizona State Capitol  starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 25 and on May 26 demanding that Legislators prioritize education and fully fund schools.

The first reading of the budget bills began shortly after in the Committee of the Whole during a Senate Floor Session and they will be referred to the House Appropriations Committee next where they will be discussed later tomorrow starting at 8 a.m..

The preliminary budget framework that met Gov. Doug Ducey’s approval was released early last week, but there was not enough votes to pass it then.

The budget proposal includes a proposal for a single 2.5% flat tax, instead of current tax brackets that range from 2.59% to 4.5%.

It also would cap taxes at 4.5% of income. That cap would eliminate the impact of voter-approved Proposition 208, also known as the Invest in Education Act Initiative, which imposes a 3.5% individual income tax surcharge on taxable annual income above $250,000 per individual and $500,000 per couple.

Based on Arizona Department of Revenue models, Prop. 208 would generate $940 million annually for teachers, counselors, therapists, support staff, vocational education and other critical services, said David Lujan, director of The Arizona Center for Economic Progress, who helped draft the initiative.

The budget proposal also includes a large tax cuts that would eliminate $1.5 billion a year from state revenues.

The tax cut is based on providing lower taxes to keep Arizona competitive in attracting new businesses, but critics are worried that the cuts are also based on moving online sales taxes currently collected from regular sales tax proceeds and into their own category that Gov. Ducey considers to be new revenue, according to a Capitol Media Services article.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Paul Boyer and Rep. David Cook are concerned about how that will impact the state financially.

But the large permanent tax cuts that budget proposal includes is opposed by Former Gov. Jan Brewer.

Analysis of Proposal

Arizona School Boards Association‘s governmental relations team has released an analysis of the preliminary budget framework.

The following are the key components of the preliminary budget, but remember since no deal has been reached yet, everything below is subject to change.

Tax Cuts

  • Reduces four tax brackets down to two at rates of 2.55% and 2.98% in FY23
  • Reduces tax rates to a flat 2.5% in FY24
  • Creates a maximum marginal tax rate of 4.5% in FY22
    • Some taxpayers may end up paying more than 2.5%, but not more than 4.5%, of their taxable income because of the 3.5% surcharge created by Prop 208
  • Increases homeowner’s rebate from 47.2% to 50%
  • Decreases the commercial property assessment ratio from 18% to 17%These changes total about $2.6B in tax cuts over three fiscal years

K-12 Investments

  • $350M in federal funds allocated to bring funding parity to non-Title I schools for COVID relief
  • $50M ongoing to increase special education Group B weights
  • $1M ongoing for gifted education
  • $5M in FY22 for the Extraordinary Special Education Needs Fund
  • $10M in FY22 and $20M in FY23 for a K-12 Transportation Grants Pilot Program
  • $17M in FY21 for Transwestern Settlement compensation

Infrastructure

  • $90.8M for Building Renewal Funding in FY22
  • $38.8M supplemental Building Renewal Funding from FY21
  • Increases the SFB formula cost per square foot to match market rate
    • $89.4M in FY22, $29.1M in FY23, $14.7M in FY24
  • $10.3M to accelerate Yuma UHSD construction
  • $3M for construction in Kirkland ESD

Arizona ranks 49th in the nation in per pupil spending, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Education advocates’ response

Education advocates have voiced their opposition to the budget proposal, because the tax cuts proposed would severely impact funding for public schools.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said Arizona should fund schools instead of providing tax breaks for the wealthy.

Save Our Schools Arizona plans to hold budget watch rallies on the lawn in front of the Arizona Senate at the Arizona State Capitol starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 25 and on May 26 demanding that Legislators prioritize education and fully fund schools.

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas had this to say about the budget proposal.

Save Our Schools AZ said it’s critical that Arizona “invest ongoing, permanent and sustainable funds into Arizona’s public education system so that schools can confidently proceed with innovation and student support.”

Instead of the preliminary budget proposal, Save Our Schools AZ urges Arizona Legislators and Gov. Ducey to use part of the $1.2 billion budget surplus and $1 billion Rainy Day Fund in the state budget to provide:

  • $200 million in ongoing funding for special education, early intervention and dyslexia training and services.
  • $200 million in ongoing funding for additional counselors and mental health programs.
  • $400 million in permanent opportunity weight for students in low-income areas who need additional resources and programs, keeping pace with the 41 states who already allocate funds to address the epidemic of poverty in our schools.
  • $500 million in building renewal funds each year for 4 years.