We voted on the budget last week, into the night on Thursday and early Friday morning. Here’s how it went down.
Going in to the week, we knew the budget was close. Early May is typically pretty late for budgets to get voted on and passed, and we knew the governor’s office was working closely with legislative leadership on the details. Some of us were privy to the details – a 1% teacher raise, results based funding for K-12 schools, and additional support for DD providers.
But one piece was not ready to go yet, and that was the governor’s university bonding proposal. This proposal was responsible for a LOT of legislative discussion over the course of the session, and was the main reason why we hadn’t adjourned yet. The initial concern with the proposal was the TPT (or sales tax) element – the idea was funded in part from taking sales tax revenue away from cities and the state. We weren't supportive of sales tax revenue coming from our local municipalities. We liked giving the universities more resources, but we didn’t want to hurt our cities in the process.
As the session dragged on, the proposal continued to lack support. Democrats wanted cities to be exempted, and Republicans didn’t like the idea of bonding, with some not wanting the universities to have any additional support at all. We were at a standstill.
Revisions were made. Instead of a TPT recapture, the proposal was now just straight funding from the state general fund. Instead of $30 million a year for 30 years, it was now $27 million a year for 25 years, to be split between ASU, UofA, and NAU - $675 million in state investment for our universities overall.
Even with these changes, the proposal still didn’t have the votes. Only 12 of the 17 Senate Republicans were in support as of Tuesday.
As this dragged on, we started looking at the budget. We had a budget briefing on Tuesday with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, where we learned more details. We wanted a 4% teacher raise – instead, it was 1% a year for two years, starting in FY18. The funding for the developmentally disabled community, to deal with the impact of Proposition 206, was less than they requested. No funding for community colleges and no mention of additional financial aid for university students.
Some last minute items were included, conceivably to win Republican votes. These included an attack on Planned Parenthood and a sweep of funds from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office to the tune of $1.6 million.
I wasn’t a fan of the overall budget, because it simply didn’t do enough to address the issues I had focused on all session. These included a substantive pay raise for our teachers, increased support for the developmentally disabled community, and support for our state community colleges.
I spent most of Wednesday going over the budget and analyses prepared for us. While this was happening, the pressure over the university bonding proposal was increasing.
My Democratic colleagues sensed an opportunity. This proposal was important to the governor, and he needed Democratic votes to pass it. We knew the session would not end without this proposal passing in SOME form, so we sought to use the proposal to strike a deal on the overall budget, mainly a higher raise for our K-12 teachers and a 24-month restoration of TANF benefits.
Our caucus stood together. Our leadership, and even me personally, met with the governor’s office to discuss some kind of deal. All sides wanted to get this done, pass the bonding, and adjourn the session within the week.
Thursday rolled around, and as we sought a better deal, and the pressure increased from the university community, we found out the news: the governor struck a deal with the more conservative members of the legislature who had initially opposed the deal, and he now had the votes in his party to pass the bill.
So instead of securing a larger pay raise for our teachers, the budget was now even MORE conservative, with amendments added to appease the members who were now in support of the bonding bill. Money was added to the “freedom schools” at ASU, UofA, and NAU, and additional programs were added as well. We sought a better deal, and we were not successful.
We started debating the budget Thursday afternoon. There are about a dozen or so budget reconciliation bills (called burbs for short) that cover different areas of the budget, like K-12 education, health care, and so on. Each of the bills goes through committee of the whole, where amendments can be offered, and then they go for a final vote.
My colleagues and I introduced dozens of amendments, and spoke in defense of our priorities and our values. I introduced two amendments, and spoke about them on the floor. The first was a restoration of funding for our universities, which would get us to the Arizona Board of Regents goal of 50% funding support for resident student tuition. The second amendment would have added a citizens review task force, comprised of legislators, academics, and the business community, to come up with a long term plan for our state’s economic future.
Unfortunately, all of our amendments failed. I was proud of my colleagues for standing up and speaking up for the issues important to us, including a 4 percent pay raise for our K-12 teachers.
We finally got around to voting on the overall budget Thursday night. I voted no, for many of the reasons I outlined above. The overall budget passed 17-13, on party lines.
Once the budget was completed, we turned to debating and voting on the university bonding bill.
Some of my colleagues and I disagreed on tactics relating to this bill. All of my Democratic House colleagues voted no on the bonding bill, knowing full well that it had the votes to pass. They voted no in part due to the fact that the pay raise for our teachers in the budget wasn’t 4 percent, like we had asked for.
I have tremendous respect for my House colleagues - I've worked closely with many of them, and share the same commitment to helping our teachers. We fought hard for a 4 percent teacher raise, and held strong together all week, in the face of a LOT of pressure. We risked costing the universities hundreds of millions of dollars in aid they desperately need in order to strike a deal that helped our teachers, who also desperately need our help.
We tried. We also failed.
Knowing this, and knowing that the budget was already voted on and completed, I approached this as a standalone bill. This standalone bill would provide $27 million a year for 25 years in research and infrastructure funding for our three state universities.
Many of you know that I worked at ASU for several years before getting elected to the Senate. Higher education is an EXTREMELY important issue for me, and I am very well versed in the details of how they have been impacted by the cuts from the legislature over the years.
People ask me all the time why I ran for office in the first place. One of the main driving reasons? We don’t invest in higher education at nearly the level we should. Arizona has cut more funding from our universities than any state in the country since 2009. The average cost of attendance for an in-state student is now over $25,000 a year.
I am, and remain, so incredibly proud of the work that ASU, and all of our universities, do. In the face of steep budget cuts, they have continued to thrive and grow and impress. ASU has been named the #1 most innovative university in the country two years in a row – all the while enduring cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars in state support since 2009.
Knowing all of this, and knowing the opportunity this bill offered my district and the entire state of Arizona, I voted yes.
This bill funds our universities, expands our research opportunities, and creates hundreds of permanent, well-paying jobs. Many of the scientists, engineers, and researchers who will now have lab space to do research will move to and live in my district. If we focus on the policy here, and not the politics, the decision is an easy one.
I love my job. I love representing my community, and I love working on good public policy that moves our state forward. This university bonding bill unquestionably helps my district and strengthens my alma mater and our other two state universities.
We wrapped for the day around 12:30am Friday morning. Since I arrived at the office Thursday morning at 6:30am, that’s an 18-hour day! I loved every minute of it.
Even though the budget is done, we still haven’t adjourned for the session quite yet. It should be this week, though – word is Wednesday is the day to wrap up the final bills we have to work on. I’ll have an update for you all next week.
As always, you can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter for more up to the minute updates. I appreciate all of your help and support – if you can, please consider showing your support today so I can keep fighting for our values and priorities at the state capitol. It is an honor to represent you in the state senate!
Yours in the fight,