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Arizona House Democrats stay away from Capitol, blocking budget debate

(Photo: Hunter Marrow/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — Arizona House Democrats stayed away from the Capitol on Tuesday, a move that blocked debate over a Republican budget proposal and was supported by Rep. Reginald Bolding.

Bolding, the House minority leader, said Democrats and the public need more time to review proposed changes Republicans released shortly before the budget debate was scheduled to begin.

“We quite frankly believe the public should have more than 90 minutes to understand what’s going to happen,” Bolding told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Because not all Republicans were present, the move kept the House short of the number of lawmakers required to conduct business. That forced House leaders to delay budget work until Thursday, when all GOP lawmakers are expected to be at the Capitol.

Denying a quorum is a tactic increasingly being weaponized by the minority parties of state legislatures in an era of intense partisanship.

Bolding said it was a necessary move since the budget includes a major tax cut primarily benefitting the wealthy.

“We were willing to do whatever we needed to do to fight for Arizona,” Bolding said.

Democrats vehemently oppose a $1.9 billion-per-year tax cut in the budget negotiated by Gov. Doug Ducey and top leaders of the House and Senate, all Republicans. The plan would lower tax rates for most taxpayers to 2.5%, down from a range of 2.59% to 4.5%. Wealthy taxpayers would, in effect, be spared from a 3.5% tax hike approved by voters last year to pay for schools.

Republicans say it would boost the economy and keep Arizona’s tax rates competitive. Democrats say it would starve public services, including education.

“I would ask us all, it may really be tough, but could we contemplate growing up and shouldering the responsibility together and think of together more than individual and pass a budget?” Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers said before the House adjourned. “We’re gonna try again on Thursday.”

The plan stalled for weeks amid concerns among a handful of Republicans that it would cripple city governments, which get a big share of their revenue from the state income tax. Ducey and legislative leaders ameliorated the GOP concerns by agreeing to delay the implementation of the tax cut and give local governments a bigger share of income tax collections.

Democrats also oppose many other budget provisions, including plans to strip Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her power to defend election lawsuits and limits on vaccine and masking requirements for universities and local governments.

“We’re looking forward to passing a budget that’s going to allow Arizona to move forward,” Bolding said.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Democrats stayed put as debate began on the 11 bills that make up the budget plan.

By midday, four of the bills had made it through debate, including one that would shield wealthy Arizonans from the effect of a new voter-approved income tax surcharge to boost school funding. That provision keeps the maximum tax rate at 4.5%, instead of the 8% it would be.

No formal votes had yet been held, and the Senate recessed as staff finalized paperwork on the remaining bills.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Debra Dale and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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