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Accounting maneuvers, ESA changes, but no tax hikes in Arizona budget

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(The Center Square) – Arizona lawmakers narrowly passed a budget on Saturday after hours of negotiations into the night on Friday.

The budget was one that entailed many cuts and fund transfers to combat a $1.4 billion deficit. Cuts were made across agencies, and several amendments were made between the original budget draft and the final one. There are several smaller budget bills that were voted on throughout the day, but the general appropriations act was not passed by both chambers until late into the evening.

The vote was bipartisan with both Republicans and Democrats voting “yes” and “no.”

“I’m really proud that even though it was not a perfect budget there are still wins,” Rep. Consuelo Hernandez, D-Tucson said.

Issues such as Empowerment Scholarship Account regulations and opioid settlement language were among the reasons for the votes against.

Rep. Matt Gress, who was the budget director under former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, explained his vote against the budget.

“I’ve been involved in the Arizona state budget since 2013, including serving as the state’s budget director,” the Phoenix Republican said in a statement. “The state budget is a policy document and a reflection of priorities. This year’s seems more focused on just ‘getting it done’ than ‘doing it right.’ I voted ‘no.’ There’s a reason there is bipartisan opposition. This is not a budget that reflects the shared priorities of Arizonans.”

Rep. Laura Terech, D-Phoenix, tweeted ahead of the vote that the budget did give a start to some ESA restrictions.

“The first several budget bills have passed. Now we’re returning to vote on the rest, including the K-12 bill. I am looking forward to voting through the first ESA reforms we’ve seen in the state of Arizona since the inception of vouchers,” she said.

The vote concludes with a contentious legislative session hallmarked by several resignations, an abortion law repeal, and a controversial border and immigration ballot referral vote. Still, the Legislature with two seat Republican majorities in each chamber managed to finish before the conclusion of fiscal year 2024, which is June 30.

“We will never see a perfect budget, that is delusional. Truly,” Rep. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, said before voting in favor.

Gov. Katie Hobbs indicated that she would sign the budget.

“Arizonans can rest assured that their state has a balanced budget. I’m thankful for members of the legislature who came together, compromised, and passed this bipartisan agreement,” her office said in a statement shortly after the package’s passage.

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