Arizona State Senators Prepping Another 'Skinny' Budget Option Amid The Pandemic

Published: Friday, January 8, 2021 - 5:26pm

The top Republican in the Arizona Senate said Friday that lawmakers are crafting a basic budget in case the coronavirus pandemic makes it impossible to hold a normal legislative session.

Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) said adopting a spending plan for the state is lawmakers’ top priority.

“That is the most important and probably the one single thing that we actually need to get accomplished,” Fann said during a panel discussion hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. “So that will be at the top of our list. We're already working collaboratively with our minority leadership in the Senate. We're going to put together that skinny budget again, just so that we're ready in case things fall apart.”

Lawmakers adopted a “skinny” budget in March, before they cut short the 2020 legislative session as the coronavirus spread throughout Arizona. 

The spending plan decreased the state’s expenses — typically the state increases its year-over-year expenses.

Lawmakers hope to return to some semblance of normalcy next week, when the session begins Monday at noon. Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers have adopted COVID-19 protocols in hopes of minimizing the spread of the virus.

In the Senate, those protocols include a mask mandate for all lawmakers, visitors and staff.

The Senate also plans to provide remote participation options for both lawmakers and the general public. A House spokesman said Bowers and House leaders are working on similar proposals.

As for other legislative matters, Glenn Hamer, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, asked lawmakers if they’d be willing to tweak the state’s tax code.

Voters approved a ballot measure in November that raises income taxes on wealthier residents to boost funding for public education. Hamer and the chamber’s allies opposed Proposition 208, warning that small businesses would be harmed by the tax increase.

Hamer suggested the tax burden on small businesses may need to be adjusted to offset the harm he claims will occur. 

House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa) seemed to agree.

“We can't run the jobs off in order to improve the education,” Bowers said. “So we've got to respond, we've got to find the balance, make sure that the funding is appropriate and have sufficient quantity in education.”

Rebecca Rios, the new top Democrat in the Senate, warned against messing with the will of the state’s voters.

“Whether it's Prop. 208, or Prop. 207 (marijuana legalization), minimum wage, paid leave — if the legislature does not take the responsibility to address it, the citizens will. And so I think we can't lament about what the citizens did,” Rios said.

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