Once again, Governor Ducey refuses to talk with Democratic legislators about the budget. In Monday's Republicans-only budget compromise, Ducey gave up more of his priorities than might have been necessary if he were willing to create a bipartisan deal where he could pull together enough votes from both sides to get a budget to his desk. Bipartisanship isn't in fashion these days.
Still, things look dicey for Ducey's compromise. A few Republicans are holding out, and with their slim legislative majority, a few is all it will take to kill the bill. The proposed budget throws a bone or two in the Democrats's direction in hopes it can get some of them to vote Yes even though they weren't allowed into the negotiating room. But as Tucson Rep. David Bradley said, "Placating is not negotiating." At this moment, the Dems look like they're holding firm.
Then there's the May 27 Memorial Day deadline, after which some Republicans will skip town and lower the chances of getting the budget through on a straight party line vote.
Wanna bet, when the dust settles, it will still be an all-Republican budget passed in the dead of night just before the Monday deadline, with enough giveaways to lure the few strays back to the fold? That's where my money would be if I were a betting man. It's a bet I'd be delighted to lose.
One huge concession Ducey made to Republican legislators is his agreement to lower income taxes enough to return the windfall which came to the state through the federal tax cut law. Another is to roll back the $32 hike in vehicle registration fees. Ducey wanted to keep that money in the state coffers badly enough, he was willing to tweak his "no tax hikes" pledge to say it's not a tax hike if Arizona isn't responsible for it, and the $32 isn't a tax, it's a fee. He was looking forward to some serious extra money to ease some budget crunches and still have cash left over to sock away in the state's rainy day fund. But his colleagues in the legislature want to keep the budget as tight as possible so they can say, "Gee, we'd like to give a little more money to [Name your underfunded budget item], but we just can't afford it."
Where things stand right now, K-12 education will get less than Ducey proposed, which wasn't enough to bring us back to the ridiculously low spending level in the 2008 budget. And it's only because the state's tax revenue is higher than expected that the education budget isn't lower than it is.
Democrats are still hoping to add bits of their agenda to the budget by passing a few amendments. That hasn't gone so well over the past few years, but hopes run high. They have to if you're in the minority. And this year, who knows, Republicans may be desperate enough for a Democratic vote or two, they'll be willing to make concessions.
Of course, if Arizona's businesses and its richest individuals were taxed at a level where they paid their fair share into the state budget, we could afford to make it all the way up to average in our per-student funding, put back the money that's been taken out of our universities, adequately fund social services and even repair some of those tooth-rattling, pot-holed roads. But that's a bit much to expect from this reddish-purple state government, unless and until we can figure out a way to turn it a little bluer.