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Arizona Legislature adjourns after passing $11.8B budget

May 28, 2019
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Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada and Republican Sen. Vince Leach talk during a break in budget votes at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix on Monday, May 27, 2019. The Legislature on Memorial Day broke an impasse that had prevented passage of a state budget for weeks. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)
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Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada and Republican Sen. Vince Leach talk during a break in budget votes at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix on Monday, May 27, 2019. The Legislature on Memorial Day broke an impasse that had prevented passage of a state budget for weeks. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers passed an $11.8 billion budget, gave child sex-abuse victims more time to sue and boosted their own expense reimbursements, then called it quits for the year early Tuesday.

The budget was approved without any Democratic votes and after majority Republicans resolved an impasse that divided the GOP and left talks in a stalemate for days.

Republican Sens. Paul Boyer and Heather Carter refused to back a budget deal until a proposal passed giving childhood sexual assault victims more time to sue their alleged assailants.

The measure extends the statute of limitations for suing from age 20 to 30 and allows victims now barred from the courthouse to sue until December 2020. It also increases the standard of proof needed to sue in those older cases.

The proposal passed the House and Senate unanimously Monday and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey quickly signed it.

The Senate then approved 11 bills making up the budget passed earlier by the House, and sent them to Ducey’s desk Monday night.

“With this budget, Arizona is learning from the mistakes of the past and making a historic payment on securing Arizona’s future,” Ducey said on Twitter after the budget was approved.

The budget for the year beginning July 1 is up 11%, and includes $386 million in tax and fee cuts meant to offset higher revenue the state expects to see from taxing more online sales and from a quirk in the 2017 federal tax overhaul. Republicans say the state shouldn’t get a windfall. Democrats fought against the tax cuts, saying the state should use the money to pay for education, highways, housing and other priorities they say are neglected.

But in a sign of the lingering bad blood, the House enthusiastically and emphatically rejected Senate legislation that would have added money to diabetes programs, cold case grants, financial literacy and other initiatives favored by senators. It went down to cheers in a 53-7 vote.

The budget that did pass makes a massive deposit in the state’s main savings account, more than doubling the rainy day fund to $1 billion. That was a top priority for Ducey, who said he wants to avoid the draconian cuts Arizona was forced to make during the Great Recession.

It funds the second of a three-phase pay increase promised to teachers who walked out of classrooms last year and marched on the Capitol to demand better wages and school funding. It also restores some of the money schools get for textbooks, school buses, technology and other needs, which was cut during the economic downturn.

Teachers wearing red for the “Red for Ed” movement packed the House and Senate galleries and committee hearings for days of stop-and-go work on the budget.

“There are some people that think they’ve done enough for education, and the work is done,” said Lupita Almanza, who teaches second grade in Mesa Public Schools, the state’s largest district. “I want to remind them the work is not done.”

The money already added helps, she said, but districts need more to recruit and fairly pay bus drivers and support staff, and to keep up with basic supplies.

Corrections officers, including those in private prisons, will get pay raises, along with state troopers, law-enforcement officers in other state agencies, and child-welfare workers.

A $32 fee added last year to vehicle registrations to fund the state police will be phased out in two years.

Republicans hold just a 31-29 majority in the House, so they needed every GOP vote to pass a budget without Democratic support. The Senate has a 17-13 GOP majority and could only afford to lose one Republican vote. Sen. J.D. Mesnard was the sole holdout. He had vowed to oppose it because he wanted a different mix of tax cuts.

“It is ironic to me that Congress can get this right but we can’t,” Mesnard said on the Senate floor. “In the fight for tax reform, Congress is one up on the state of Arizona.”

The House and Senate also backed a proposal that would triple the amount lawmakers get for expenses each day, sending the legislation to Ducey.

Lawmakers in both parties back the proposal, saying rural lawmakers especially are undercompensated for their costs of traveling to and staying in Phoenix during the session.

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s long overdue, it needs to be done, it’s a fairness issue, and everybody knows it,” Republican Rep. Noel Campbell said.

Lawmakers earn $24,000 a year, plus a daily stipend of $60 for rural lawmakers and $35 for Maricopa County residents. The measure would raise the amount for expenses to $185 a day and half that for Phoenix-area residents.

The Senate rejected a $2.5 million program to promote childbirth over abortion in a rare defeat for the influential social conservative group Center for Arizona Policy.

“It truly is a travesty that our state government cannot secure the votes necessary to value the needs of pregnant women who often are not aware of their options,” the group’s director, Cathi Herrod, said in a statement.

Democrats say the legislation was a backdoor way to fund “crisis pregnancy centers” that discourage women from having an abortion.

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