House passes measure to avoid school funding cuts, but Senate appears to miss a GOP vote


The push to temporarily increase the state’s spending limit for K-12 schools and avoid nearly $1.2 billion in cuts that could close classrooms was easily passed in the US House of Representatives. state, but stalled in the Senate, where it can only be one Republican short of the 20 votes needed to pass it.

With 14 Senate Democrats unanimously backing the measure, legislative leaders only need five Republicans to reach the two-thirds supermajority required to raise the overall spending limit, which is needed to allow schools to spend the money lawmakers have earmarked for K-12 education. Last year.

Five Republican senators – Nancy Barto, Paul Boyer, Tyler Pace, TJ Shope and Senate Speaker Karen Fann, who sponsored the resolution to raise the cap – confirmed to the Arizona Mirror that they support the measure.

This means that there are 19 votes. But the deciding 20th vote proved elusive on Tuesday. Fann delayed the start of the Senate floor session by more than half an hour as she tried to round off the final vote. She wouldn’t confirm how many votes she already has, but says she’s close.

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The problem is that many Republican senators won’t vote for the resolution until they know it won’t open the door to Proposition 208, a voter-approved income tax hike for wealthy from Arizona. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled last year that raising taxes was illegal if new revenue exceeded the overall spending limit, and sent the case back to a Maricopa County Superior Court judge for he determines. So far, Judge John Hannah has taken his time.

Last week, Hannah told legislative leaders that he will make his decision on his own schedule. The Arizona Constitution sets a deadline of March 1 for lawmakers to raise the spending cap before districts have to start making budget cuts. Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said that would represent a cumulative reduction of 16% for school districts.

Given that the school year would be roughly three-quarters over when the cuts are expected to take effect, many school districts said the impact would be huge – and could force teacher layoffs and school closures .

“Obviously (Hannah’s) comments last week were less than respectful of the process. He basically said, ‘I have other things on the agenda and I have 60 days to do that. , so I’ll get there when I get there,” Fann, R-Prescott, told the Mirror. “Unfortunately, because the judge is delaying the decision, I have members who weren’t yet comfortable voting on it until they saw his decision.”

Republican resistance fighters, for now at least

This is the position that Senator JD Mesnard, R-Chandler, has taken. Mesnard is ready to vote to raise the spending cap, but not before the judge has ruled on the Prop issue. 208. Even though the lodge and Senate The resolutions only allow schools to exceed the $1,154,028,997 cap that the legislature budgeted for them last year, Mesnard said the judge’s delay made him wonder if Hannah was waiting for the legislature to vote. If lawmakers lift the cap, he fears the judge will come back and say the situation has changed in a way that will allow Proposition 208 to go into effect.

“I went from frustrated to furious that this was the situation in front of us that was entirely avoidable. And I don’t understand why it’s taking so long,” he said.

It’s unclear when the Senate might vote on the resolution to lift the cap. Fann said Republican lawmakers filed a special action petition with the Arizona Supreme Court. They hope to convince the judges to order Hannah to act quickly – he has until March 10 to decide the case – or to take up the case themselves.

Several Republican senators declined to give their position on the resolution.

“I’m going to vote when it’s on the board,” said Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Liberty.

Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said it was no Tuesday, but that could change in the coming days. He would not say whether his concern was specifically related to Prop. 208.

“Just everything. It’s not an easy discussion. This is not a slam dunk decision. So I want more information,” he said.

Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said he was waiting for information to come back before taking a position, although he declined to say exactly what it was.

“I don’t hope that I will get the information. And if that information doesn’t come back in the affirmative, I’ll be in the negative,” Leach said.

Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez was absent from the Senate on Tuesday while at home with his newborn baby, potentially leaving leaders scrambling for another Republican vote. But Fann said Mendez had permission to vote from his Legislative Office under Senate COVID-19 protocols, and his understanding was that he was coming to the Capitol in case his vote was needed.

The legal versus the practical

While the Arizona Constitution sets a deadline of March 1, Mesnard said the most important deadline is actually April 1. This is when state law requires school districts to submit their revised budgets. Until then, districts won’t have to make the cuts.

That’s technically true, but it doesn’t necessarily mean districts won’t have trouble if the legislature misses the March 1 deadline but acts before April 1, said Arizona School Boards Association lobbyist Chris Kotterman.

“It’s the legal time frame versus the practical time frame,” Kotterman said.

If the legislature doesn’t lift the cap by March 1, Kotterman said districts would begin planning for likely cuts. This could include providing teachers and other certified staff with notices of pending salary reductions. This could even include phased reductions in advance to ease the burden of doing them after April 1. Districts will likely lose faith that the legislature will lift the cap and start acting on it. Teachers and other staff might not wait and might quit sooner if they have the chance to get other jobs, he said.

“You start to run into timing issues where if you drag on too long, school districts are in the process of making budget cuts while you’re trying to figure out whether or not you’re going to let them spend the money,” Kotterman says. “I think there is potential for real damage even before April 1.”

Smooth Chamber Navigation

Things went much smoother in the House on Tuesday, where the resolution passed 45-14. Seventeen Republicans voted to lift the cap and 14 voted against it.

Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, a Chandler Democrat who sponsored a resolution to raise the cap earlier in the session, said she was excited to vote to ensure schools can start the fourth quarter of their school years with the full funding that the legislature allocated to them in 2021. And she asked why school districts had waited so long.

“The waiver is a temporary solution that will allow schools to spend the money that has already been allocated. They didn’t do anything wrong and they certainly didn’t go over budget,” Pawlik said. “It has been frustrating to see the mountain anxiety of our educators as they waited for action from this body, knowing that in the past when a waiver was needed, it was handled quickly and without fanfare.”

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, did not appear to share the concerns of many Senate Republicans that the cap increase would affect the Proposition 208 litigation.

“No one ever said schools were doing anything wrong. We just said we wanted to make sure there was no connection between this issue and other issues,” he said.


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