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Arizona Senate leaves for night without budget deal

By BOB CHRISTIE and JONATHAN J. COOPERMay 25, 2019
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Two Republican holdouts on a proposed Arizona state budget, Senators Paul Boyer, left, and J.D. Mesnard confer on the Senate floor during a break in the action in Phoenix, Ariz., Friday, May 24, 2019. Republicans who control the state legislature are trying to wrangle enough support from holdouts like Boyer and Mesnard to pass the deal the $11.8 billion state budget package they negotiated with GOP Gov. Doug Ducey. Arizona House lawmakers worked into the early morning Friday to pass several bills that are part of the state budget before calling it a night while the Senate took the night off because it lacked the votes to enact budget legislation. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)
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Two Republican holdouts on a proposed Arizona state budget, Senators Paul Boyer, left, and J.D. Mesnard confer on the Senate floor during a break in the action in Phoenix, Ariz., Friday, May 24, 2019. Republicans who control the state legislature are trying to wrangle enough support from holdouts like Boyer and Mesnard to pass the deal the $11.8 billion state budget package they negotiated with GOP Gov. Doug Ducey. Arizona House lawmakers worked into the early morning Friday to pass several bills that are part of the state budget before calling it a night while the Senate took the night off because it lacked the votes to enact budget legislation. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Senate adjourned for the night late Friday without breaking an impasse on an $11.8 billion state budget plan negotiated between Republican legislative leaders and GOP Gov. Doug Ducey.

A handful of Republican holdouts prevented action on the budget for a second day as they seek changes to a tax overhaul plan or action on legislation giving child sexual assault victims more time to sue. No Democrats have said they back the spending plan, so the Senate can only lose one Republican vote and still pass the budget.

Senate President Karen Fann remained optimistic for a breakthrough, telling members to return Saturday morning.

“We are hoping that you all will be back promptly at 10, and by then maybe we can start voting on some budget bills if at all possible,” Fann said.

But at least three GOP senators remained opposed, and holdout Sen. Paul Boyer said no deal was in sight.

The House was forging ahead, debating and passing more of the bills that make up the budget with no Democratic support. If the Senate has a breakthrough Saturday, lawmakers could end the session with action on the remaining bills.

Lawmakers did pass a series of bills Friday that had no relation to the budget, including one that allows landlords not to credit rent payments from charity organizations as partial rent payments for low-income people.

House lawmakers worked into the early morning hours Friday to pass several bills that are part of the state budget package. They returned in the morning and late Friday were voting on more budget bills that received no Democratic support.

Republican holdouts who forced Thursday’s Senate delay sparked anger among GOP House members that was caught on an open microphone during a closed evening caucus meeting. Reps. Ben Toma and Kelly Townsend threatened to retaliate against two GOP senators who do not support the budget, with Toma saying he would not hear bills by Sens. Paul Boyer or Heather Carter in the next session. They also discussed an ethics inquiry.

Carter and Boyer are demanding changes to laws that limit lawsuits by child sex assault victims. Carter also objects to the lack of funding for several of her key priorities that received broad support earlier but are not included in the final budget deal.

Boyer has vowed not to vote for the budget until his child sex assault bill passes. He pushed back on the idea of an ethics inquiry pegged to his move to block the budget until his demands are met.

“I think they need to re-read the code of ethics,” Boyer said Friday. “If we’re going to say there’s something unethical about holding up a budget vote because of children who have been sexually assaulted and trying to expose child predators, then I have a different code of ethics than some of my colleagues over in the House.”

Republicans approved in a party-line vote a plan to cut $325 million in taxes to offset higher revenue the state anticipates from changes in federal law and from collecting more taxes on online sales.

Democrats said the GOP plan sets up a fiscal cliff in the mid-2020s when the federal tax changes expire, but the corresponding state tax cuts do not. Around the same time, Proposition 123 — a 10-year year school-funding plan approved by voters — expires.

“We are setting ourselves up for a fiscally irresponsible, fiscally dangerous situation,” Democratic Rep. Randy Friese said.

Republicans objected to calling the changes a tax cut, saying taxes would increase without the changes they advocate. Their plan would lower tax rates, eliminate a tax bracket and raise the standard deduction to lower all voters’ taxable income.

“No matter how many times it’s said that this is a tax cut, doesn’t make it so,” said Rep. Ben Toma, a Republican who helped craft the plan. “This is an offset of what would otherwise be a tax increase.”

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