Senate passes Arizona budget package; House to reconvene Thursday

Jun 23, 2021, 5:00 PM
(AP Photo/Bob Christie)...
(AP Photo/Bob Christie)
(AP Photo/Bob Christie)

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Senate passed a $12.8 billion budget for the coming fiscal year early Wednesday that contains massive income tax cuts after a marathon session where majority Republicans packed the package with a conservative policy wish list.

Republicans in last year’s election just barely held onto legislative majorities that have been eroding for a decade, and they are using them to advance a grab bag of priorities new and old.

The GOP package includes the tax cut and a big expansion for Arizona’s private school voucher program, both of which go against ballot measures backed by voters in the last two elections. The package also includes a ban on teaching critical race theory and prohibitions on vaccine or mask mandates. And it strips power from the state’s most prominent elected Democrats.

The Senate finished voting on the 11 bills that make up the budget package about 2:30 a.m., about 16 hours after starting debate. The House had also planned to vote Tuesday, but minority Democrats boycotted the session, leaving Republicans fuming because they lacked a quorum to conduct business.

The House is expected to make another attempt on Thursday, when all 31 Republicans are expected to be in the Capitol, preventing Democrats from blocking votes for a second time. Majority Leader Rep. Ben Toma said there may be some changes to what the Senate enacted.

Here’s a look at some of the conservative priorities in the Senate-approved budget:


Last-minute amendments revived a stalled bill expanding private school vouchers. The measure adds about 600,000 low-income students to those who qualify to get public money to attend private schools. Just three years ago, Arizona voters rejected a universal school voucher plan passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey by a 2-1 margin.

“This will take money directly from your public school classrooms,” Democratic Sen. Lisa Otondo of Yuma said. “This is a slap in the face.”

The state Department of Education says about 250,000 students are now eligible, but only about 9,800 students are currently getting vouchers and half are disabled children attending specialized schools. Technically called Empowerment Scholarship Account, they cost the state about $145 million a year. Parents get 90% of the state funds that would otherwise go to their local public school to use for private school tuition and other education costs. Disabled students can receive up to $40,000 for specialized therapy.


Senate Republicans also barred the teaching of critical race theory, a hot-button topic for the GOP base. The measure blocks any instruction that infers that one race is inherently racist, should be discriminated against or feel guilty because of their race. Teachers could lose their credentials and schools fined if they allow such instruction.

It also allows the attorney general to seek civil penalties against teachers who use work time to advocate for a strike, directly targeting a repeat of a 2018 statewide teacher’s strike over low teacher pay and underfunded schools.


The budget was packed with a host of items targeting enforcement of coronavirus restrictions. It now bans school districts and universities from requiring face masks or vaccines. Mandatory testing would also be outlawed, except in cases of outbreaks in dormitories and only with approval from Ducey’s administration. That was prompted by Arizona State University rules issued last week that said unvaccinated students must be regularly tested and wear face masks that Ducey blocked by executive order.

The plan also will limit a future governor’s ability to issue extended emergency declarations without the Legislature’s approval, and preempts cities, towns and counties from issuing their own public health mandates, such as business closures. The governor will lose authority to mandate vaccines in the future.

State and local governments can’t require so-called “vaccine passports” or mandate that businesses check their customers’ vaccination records. And cities and counties will be preempted from issuing any of their own COVID protection orders, including mask mandates, capacity limits or closures.


Republicans embraced the unfounded theory that former President Donald Trump lost in Arizona because of voter fraud, creating a $12 million election integrity fund to pay for election security updates and future hand recounts. Their bill lays out a series of security features for ballot paper, such as watermarks or holograms, though it stops short of explicitly requiring they be used. County election officials implored lawmakers to reverse course, fearing lawmakers will mandate security standards that would be unworkable.

It also created a joint task force with the attorney general to investigate whether Facebook and Twitter’s bans on former President Donald Trump’s accounts constitutes an illegal in-kind political donation to his opponents. The task force also would investigate whether social media company algorithms favor or disfavor certain candidates. Both measures are a response to Trump supporters’ conviction that he’s treated unfairly by social media giants.

The Senate is currently overseeing an unprecedented “audit” of the November election results in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, and where Trump lost in the formerly red-leaning state.


Democrats vehemently oppose a $1.9 billion-per-year tax cut in the budget negotiated by Ducey and top leaders of the House and Senate, all Republicans. When fully phased in, 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.

Ducey hailed the passage of the budget plan, issuing a statement at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday praising the tax cuts and saying he will sign it once the House enacts the plan.

“This balanced and fiscally responsible plan is a win for all Arizonans — it delivers unprecedented tax relief to working families and small businesses, it pays down state debt, and it continues to invest in our schools and infrastructure so we can keep Arizona competitive,” Ducey said.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Facebook Photo/AZ Super Bowl)...

Here’s what happening at the Super Bowl Experience in Phoenix this weekend

The Super Bowl Experience will kick off its second weekend of festivities in Phoenix this week with plenty to do ahead of the big game. 
5 hours ago
(KTAR News Photo/Taylor Kinnerup)...
Danny Shapiro

Here’s your Valley weather forecast for Super Bowl, WM Phoenix Open

The weather should only add to the excitement of the Super Bowl and WM Phoenix Open being in town this weekend.
5 hours ago
(Pexels Photo)...

Arizona man sentenced for lying during mass shooting investigation

An Arizona man was sentenced to three years of supervised release for his role in lying during an investigation into a Tucson mass shooting.
5 hours ago
New luxury suite and other seating upgrades have been added to State Farm Stadium for Super Bowl LV...
Brandon Brown/Phoenix Business Journal

NFL builds out new luxury suites at State Farm Stadium for Super Bowl, some will be permanent

The NFL is customizing State Farm Stadium with dozens of new seating options for the Super Bowl on Sunday, and some will be permanent.
5 hours ago
(CVS Health Photos)...

Affordable housing development in south Phoenix holds grand opening

UMOM New Day Centers held a grand opening ceremony Wednesday for an affordable housing development in south Phoenix.
1 day ago
This Spicy Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich is part of the new food menu approved by the NFL for the S...
Brandon Brown/Phoenix Business Journal

First look: State Farm Stadium ups the ante on Super Bowl food, beverage offerings

Those attending the NFL’s championship game, which will be played in Glendale on Sunday, can expect an elevated food and beverage menu.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Senate passes Arizona budget package; House to reconvene Thursday