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A long day for Arizona lawmakers ends without approving a budget

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

(Arizona Mirror) After a long and contentious day, Arizona state lawmakers did not vote to pass their budget bills on Friday as they’d hoped. Instead they planned to reconvene Saturday morning as lawmakers from both political parties decried the lengthy negotiation process as well as specifics of the proposed budget.

Lawmakers must approve a state budget before the end of the 2024 fiscal year, which ends June 30, or the state will face possible shutdowns of critical government functions. Additionally, state leaders must figure out a way to fix a $1.3 billion deficit over the 2024 and 2025 fiscal years, prompting budget cuts for most state agencies.

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Democratic legislators took umbrage with a plan to allocate $75 million of state opioid settlement funds to the Department of Corrections. That money, which the state got through a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies in the wake of the opioid crisis, has restrictions on how it should be used. Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes has threatened to sue the governor and lawmakers if the proposal makes it into the final version of the budget.

Mayes believes that using the money to “backfill holes” in the Department of Corrections operating budget would put the $1.4 billion the state is set to receive in the settlement at risk of legal challenges. However, Mayes’ office has previously described transfers to the DOC as qualified usage of the settlement money.

Governor Katie Hobbs and legislative leaders face more challenges than issues with reallocation of the opioid money if they’re going to get enough lawmakers on board to pass the budget they’ve been working on for the past few months.

A letter-writing campaign is underway after the Area Agency on Aging began raising concern over a shift of its budget allocation from one-time to ongoing funding. The $5 million in funding the agency is anticipating to receive would be pushed to next year, putting more than 700 seniors at risk of losing certain services, according to the agency.

Friday, lawmakers began the procedural motions to move the budget bills forward, but did not vote on them. Lawmakers also voted on a number of other measures during a day marked by lengthy negotiations and numerous stops and starts. Some lawmakers objected to the way the entire process played out.

“This could be a very good bill, it could be a very bad bill. I wouldn’t know because we haven’t been afforded the time to read the bills,” Representative Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, said when explaining why he was voting against one of the bills. He later added that legislators only had 48 hours to read the “1,000 page” budget that was provided to them.

Sources at the capitol told the Arizona Mirror that “rank and file” Democrats and Republicans were upset over what they saw as the process moving too quickly. Lawmakers took several extended breaks throughout the day as Republican and Democratic leadership took time to speak to their caucuses about the proposed budget.

On Thursday, lawmakers had shared that they intended to end the legislative session the next day, but by late Friday the House of Representatives voted to adjourn until Saturday morning. The Senate chose to recess until the same time.

Shortly after adjourning, the House Republicans’ X account, formerly known as Twitter, said that they have the votes to pass the budget.

“The House has the votes to pass the state budget,” the post said. “To allow time for the legislative language to be drafted and distributed to members for review, the Speaker has decided to adjourn and reconvene in the morning at 8:00 a.m., at which time we will pass the state budget.”

But Senate Democratic members posted a selfie from inside the Capitol late Friday saying the “budget in its current form does not have the votes to pass in the Senate.”

The proposed budget would initiate a number of cuts across state agencies which has also been a point of contention among lawmakers, the governor’s office and the agencies that would see their budgets slashed.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and X.