Tue, Jun 21, 2022 12:54 PM
By Cole Lauterbach, The Center Square
Arizona lawmakers are days away from the new budget year and have yet to agree on legislation to send off to Gov. Doug Ducey that would give state agencies legal ability to spend money. But, they’re working on it.
Lawmakers passed a package of spending bills Tuesday in the House Appropriations Committee. With the aid of Rep. César Chávez, D-Phoenix, most of the budget documents passed on an 8-5 bipartisan vote.
Republican leaders stressed that the budget bills were a compromise that included increases in education spending, targeted infrastructure projects, and lump-sum payments.
The state has an estimated $5 billion budget surplus for the coming fiscal year. However, many are predicting an economic downturn that could put pressure on state budgets nationwide.
Democrats made the most of the hearing, criticizing GOP leadership for the little notice given to read hundreds of lines of appropriations and their resistance to putting most of the state’s surplus to teacher raises.
“That is not in this budget,” said Rep. Kelly Butler, D-Phoenix, referring to teacher pay hikes. “This does not do enough to reflect our economy, to reflect the fact that we have a massive teacher shortage. Teachers are not going to look at this budget and feel like they are getting a significant, or any, increase in pay or working conditions.”
Republicans said the bill includes pay increases for teachers but schools are ultimately the ones who decide how much of a pay bump educators receive.
“There’s an over $1.6 billion increase in education spending in this budget. This is not nothing,” said Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa. “If you look at it on a per-pupil basis on K-12 funding, it ends up being around a $750 increase per student.”
Some Republicans criticized the increased spending from negotiations.
“I think this hurts our state and it hurts the citizens of our state,” said Jake Hoffman, a Queen Creek Republican who voted against much of the budget. “We’re in the midst of what’s likely a sustained recession. We’re going to have serious economic destruction in our state, and yet we’re giving out significant raises to state employees. In some cases, it’s 15% raises. … This budget does not reflect the priorities of the majority.”
Lawmakers also voted to further a contingency budget that essentially puts state spending on autopilot should a budget fail to materialize before July 1.