Hobbs’ first Arizona budget defunds border strike force, universal school choice program

If the reaction from Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ first budget proposal is any indication, she and lawmakers are likely in for a long spring.

Hobbs announced her $17.1 billion spending proposal Friday afternoon, saying it lowers costs, invests in public education, secures the state’s water future and addresses the affordable housing crisis.

“We have an opportunity to make a significant change in the lives of the families and communities of this state. We are committed to facing our challenges head on to build a resilient, innovative and prosperous Arizona for everyone,” Hobbs said.

She proposes to end Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship program, which allows any parent to use a portion of the state funds devoted to their student to pay for private school tuition or various other educational needs. Gov. Doug Ducey pushed for the expansion, which received national attention as one of the most comprehensive school-choice programs in the country. Hobbs projects $144 million in savings in the coming fiscal year and $1.5 billion in taxpayer savings over $10 years. She proposes eliminating the funding from an “underreported and unnecessary use” and funneling that money into public schools.

Her office expects students to be forced back into public schools with the repeal of the ESA.

“With a repeal in FY 2024, the Executive forecasts an anticipated increase in student enrollment,” her budget presentation read.

In addition, she proposes requiring the state’s charter schools and any that accept ESA accounts to be subjected to the same requirements as public schools.

Hobbs also proposes defunding another Ducey initiative in the Border Strike Force, an initiative within the Department of Public Services targeting border crimes and focusing on transnational criminal organizations.

In terms of tax breaks, Hobbs proposes a $100 tax credit for each child of a family making less than $40,000 or a single filer earning less than $20,000. Hobbs also wants a tax exemption on diapers and feminine hygiene products.

The announcement was met with some skepticism from Republicans, who Hobbs must persuade to make any of her proposals a reality.

“House Republicans are reviewing Governor Hobbs’ budget proposal but based on the left-wing wish list of spending details disclosed so far, I’m confident to say that it will be dead on arrival,” said House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria.

Lawmakers and Hobbs now begin the negotiation process that culminates with a budget to begin this summer.

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