PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey vowed Friday to veto any legislation that reaches his desk until the Legislature approves a state budget. And he made that retroactive, killing 22 measures that were awaiting his action.
“This weekend marks one month until the end of the fiscal year, and Arizonans are counting on us to work together and pass a budget that provides certainty to taxpayers and citizens,’’ Ducey wrote in announcing his decision, a day after legislators announced a recess because they couldn’t agree on a budget.
The list of now-dead legislation ranges from banning the use of public dollars for “critical race theory’’ training; to making changes in election laws; to ensuring that women at state prisons get free access to feminine hygiene products.
Less clear is what the legislators must include in the spending and tax-cut plan to get Ducey to relent.
The governor’s vow is not tied to his specific request for a $12.8 billion spending plan and $1.9 billion in permanent tax cuts, said his press aide C.J. Karamargin.
But Ducey, in his statement, suggested that’s pretty much what he wants.
“On the table is a budget agreement that makes responsible and significant investments in K-12 education, higher education, infrastructure and local communities, all while delivering historic tax relief to working families and small businesses,’’ he wrote.
And Ducey, in his letter to fellow Republicans Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, said he looks forward to partnering with them “to focus on what matters and pass a budget.’’
But Bowers said if Ducey is unhappy with progress on the budget, perhaps he needs to look into a mirror.
“It takes 31-16-1 to be successful here,’’ Bowers said, referencing the number of votes it takes in the House and the Senate, plus the governor’s signature, to approve a budget or other new laws. “Sometimes we forget about the one.’’
Fann, reportedly en route out of town, could not be reached for comment.
“The other stuff can wait”
Legislative leaders were working earlier this week to line up budget votes among Republican lawmakers. But when a consensus could not be reached, they decided to send everyone home until June 10.
That allowed lawmakers, who had presumed the legislative session would be over in late April as scheduled, to pursue their travel and vacation plans.
Those decisions did not sit well with Ducey.
“The governor believes the Arizona Legislature should do its job,’’ Karamargin said. “There is no more important job at this time than the budget.”
Ducey, in a separate Twitter post, said his vetoes should not be seen as commenting on the merits of any of the bills.
“Some are good policy, but with one month left until the end of the fiscal year, we need to focus on passing a budget,’’ he wrote. “That should be Priority One. The other stuff can wait.’’
Can’t “un-veto” a bill
Nothing keeps lawmakers from sending the same proposals back to Ducey later this year — assuming they do it after there is a budget and he dissolves his veto pledge.
But there is no procedure in the Arizona Constitution to “un-veto’’ a bill. That would mean having to start over again from scratch, either with entirely new bills — and public hearings — or finding ways to insert provisions of the vetoed bills into the budget package.
Ducey’s move, while unusual, is not without precedent.
In 2013, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer announced she would not sign any measures until there was resolution of a new state budget. And in that case, she also wanted the Republican-controlled Legislature to include her plan to expand Medicaid.
Lawmakers were not happy then, with Andy Biggs, then the Senate president, calling it “extortion or blackmail.’’ But Brewer eventually got what she wanted.
Ducey previously took a page from Brewer’s playbook in 2018 when he vetoed 10 bills on his desk because lawmakers had yet to give him a budget with his proposed 20% raise for teachers. He relented after he got what he wanted.
Efforts this year by GOP leaders to enact a spending and tax cut plan have been hampered by the fact that Republicans have just a bare majority in both the House and Senate.
That means they need every Republican on board if they are to approve their priorities. But that also allows any one legislator to hold up the process to win concessions.
One particular sticking point is the $1.9 billion reduction in revenue that would occur if Arizona enacts a flat income tax structure and alters other income tax laws to shield wealthier residents from a voter-approved income tax surcharge to help fund K-12 education.
Several legislators, citing the cyclical nature of the Arizona economy, question the wisdom of a permanent tax cut. While it takes only a simple majority to reduce tax rates, it would take a two-thirds vote to raise them if the need arose.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Arizona cities get 15% of the income taxes collected by the state.
House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, has argued that the stimulus effect of a cut in tax rates ultimately will generate more dollars overall.
The package, however, does include what’s been billed a “hold-harmless’’ provision for cities, ensuring no reduction in revenues. But Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said he has yet to be convinced that there will not be a long-term hit.