A1 A1
Angry Ducey won't sign bills until budget approved
  • Updated

PHOENIX — Upset with what he sees as lack of progress, Gov. Doug Ducey vowed Friday to veto any other legislation that reaches his desk until he gets a budget.

And he’s making that threat retroactive, killing 22 measures that already were awaiting his action before the ultimatum.

“This weekend marks one month until the end of the fiscal year, and Arizonans are counting on us to work together and pass a budget that provides certainty to taxpayers and citizens,’’ the governor said in a prepared statement announcing his decision.

The list of now-dead items ranges from the use of public dollars for “critical race theory’’ and changes in election laws to registration of sex offenders and ensuring that women at state prisons get free access to feminine hygiene products.

Less clear is what has to be in the spending and tax-cut plan to get Ducey to relent.

Press aide C.J. Karamargin told Capitol Media Services that the governor’s threat is not tied to adoption of his specific $12.8 billion spending plan and $1.9 billion in permanent tax cuts. But Ducey, in his statement, suggested that’s pretty much what he wants.

“On the table is a budget agreement that makes responsible and significant investments in K-12 education, higher education, infrastructure and local communities, all while delivering historic tax relief to working families and small businesses,’’ he wrote. And Ducey, in his letter to Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, said he looks forward to partnering with them “to focus on what matters and pass a budget.’’

But Bowers, a Mesa Republican, said that if Ducey is unhappy with progress on the budget then perhaps he needs to look into a mirror.

“It takes 31-16-1 to be successful here,’’ referencing a majority of the House, the Senate and the governor. “Sometimes we forget about the one.’’

Fann, reportedly en route out of town, could not be reached for comment.

Her decision — and similar ones by other legislators — may have spurred Ducey’s decision Friday to go on a veto spree.

Legislative leaders were working earlier this week to line up the votes among Republican lawmakers. But when a consensus could not be reached, they decided to send everyone home until June 10.

That allowed lawmakers, who had presumed the session would be over in late April as scheduled, to pursue their travel and vacation plans.

Those decisions did not sit well with Ducey.

“The governor believes the Arizona Legislature should do its job,’’ Karamargin said.

“There is no more important job at this time and the budget,’’ he continued. “And the next fiscal year is a month away.

The governor, in a separate Twitter post, said his vetoes should not be seen as commenting on the merits of any of the bills.

“Some are good policy, but with one month left until the end of the fiscal year, we need to focus on passing a budget,’’ he wrote.

“That should be Priority One,’’ Ducey continued. “The other stuff can wait.’’

Nothing keeps lawmakers from sending the same proposals back to Ducey later this year — assuming they do it after there is a budget and he dissolves his veto threat.

But there is no procedure in the Arizona Constitution to “un-veto’’ a bill. That means having to start over again from scratch, either with entirely new bills — and public hearings — or find ways to insert their provisions into the budget package.

Ducey’s move, while unusual, is not without precedent.

In 2013, Republican Jan Brewer announced she would not sign any measures until there was resolution of a new state budget. And in that case, the then-governor also wanted the Republican-controlled legislature to include her plan to expand Medicaid.

Lawmakers were not happy then, with Andy Biggs, then the Senate president, calling it “extortion or blackmail.’’ But Brewer eventually got what she wanted.

And Ducey himself took a page from Brewer’s playbook in 2018 when he vetoed 10 bills on his desk because lawmakers had yet to give him a budget with his proposed 20% raise for teachers. He relented after he got what he wanted.

Efforts by GOP leaders to enact a spending and tax cut plan have been hampered by the fact that Republicans have just a bare majority in both the House and Senate.

That means they need everyone on board if they are to approve a package of Republican priorities. But that also allows any one legislator to hold up the process until she or he either gets more projects added or tries to have some removed.

The problem with that is one person’s “pork’’ in the budget is on another person’s going-home list.

One particular sticking point is that $1.9 billion reduction in revenue that would occur if Arizona enacts a flat income tax structure and alters other income tax laws to shield wealthier residents from a voter-approved income tax surcharge to help fund K-12 education.

Several legislators, citing the cyclical nature of the Arizona economy, question the wisdom of a permanent tax cut. That’s because while it takes only a simple majority to reduce tax rates, it would take a two-thirds vote to raise them if the need arose.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Arizona cities get 15% of what the state collects in income taxes.

House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, has argued that the stimulus effect of a cut in tax rates ultimately will generate more dollars overall.

The package, however, does include what’s been billed a “hold-harmless’’ provision for cities, ensuring no reduction in revenues. But Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said he has yet to be convinced that there will not be a long-term hit.

spotlight featured top story
Troopers association asks for funds to refurbish DPS K-9 facility in Casa Grande
  • Updated

CASA GRANDE — The Arizona State Troopers Association is hoping that the Arizona Legislature will be able to squeeze another $250,000 into the state budget to fund new equipment and upgrades to the existing Arizona Department of Public Safety K-9 training facility in Casa Grande.

The union would really like to get $1.6 million for the facility and equipment for the Canine Division but it put in its request for the K-9 improvements a bit late in the legislative session, said Jeffrey Hawkins, the association’s president.

The association asked the Legislature for a 10% pay increase for all DPS employees, $6.6 million in overtime pay, $400,000 for recruitment purposes, $48.2 million to replace communications equipment, $3 million for active shooter equipment, $3 million for the training academy, as well as the funding for the Caine Division, according to the association’s Facebook page.

The Casa Grande K-9 facility was built about 15 years ago and consists of offices, storage areas, a kennel, outdoor training yard with covered bleachers, parking for vehicles and a garage where vehicles that have been seized can be thoroughly searched.

The facility is used by both DPS and a number of local law enforcement agencies in the state to train K-9s for police and drug work and it sees a lot of use, said Capt. Vern Havens, who is the Canine District commander for DPS. The division has around 36 dogs that rotate through the training center on a regular basis. Troopers are constantly training their dogs at the facility, while they’re on the job and at home.

The department gets the dogs when they’re about 1 or 2 years old and most dogs will stay in service until they’re 7 to 9 years old, he said. It takes about five weeks to train a dog for patrol purposes and another couple of weeks to train them for drug detection.

The division is rotating out and replacing most of the drug dogs due to the state law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, Haven said. The department has been given the funds to replace the dogs.

It is better to replace, rather than retrain, marijuana-trained dogs with ones that haven’t been trained to sniff for the drug, he said. It can be difficult to retrain a dog and it can cause evidence problems if a dog that was once trained to alert on marijuana alerts on a vehicle that contains both marijuana and another drug like cocaine. It makes it difficult to determine if the dog alerted to the marijuana or the cocaine or both drugs.

Havens said he would also like to replace the swamp cooler that is currently used to cool the kennels with an air-conditioning unit and upgrade the kennels.

He would also like to put up a shade structure that would cover the entire training yard and replace the yard’s grass with artificial turf that would be safe for the dogs’ paws.

The yard doesn’t have a full shade structure, so the handlers try to train the dogs early in the morning or after the sun goes down in the summer when the air temperature is cooler. It’s also difficult to maintain grass in the summer heat, he said.

Haven would also like to get lights for the yard so troopers could train dogs at night and new training tools.

The division also needs to replace some of its vehicles, he said. The division puts a lot of wear and tear on its vehicles.

Like the rest of the department, the division’s troopers use Chevy Tahoes that are modified to meet their needs. The vehicles’ back seats are replaced with a kennel structure for the dogs, which takes up most of the back half of the vehicle, leaving little room for additional equipment for the dogs or their handlers.

The division also provides support to patrol troopers and law enforcement agencies across the state, Haven said. Which means that K-9 troopers can end up putting a lot of miles on the vehicles while driving from one end of the state to the other in order to respond to calls for assistance.

The vehicle’s engines are also frequently running, even if the trooper is not sitting in the vehicle, he said. This keeps the vehicle’s air conditioning running for the trooper’s K-9 partner while the trooper is not in the vehicle.

The SUVs have a system installed that can monitor the interior temperature of the vehicle and alert the handlers through a smartphone app when the vehicle gets too warm, he said. The app can show a trooper the average temperature in the vehicle as well as the temperature on the passenger and driver’s sides of the vehicle, if the vehicle’s engine is running and the vehicle’s battery life.

If the vehicle gets too warm, the system will send an alert through the app and a text message to the trooper. If the trooper doesn’t respond, the app starts sending alerts to the trooper and the trooper’s superior officer. If the situation continues, the app will call both the trooper and the superior officer. The app will also roll down the vehicle’s windows, honk the horn and set off the vehicle’s light bar and hazards. If the temperature gets too extreme, the app will pop open the vehicle’s door to let the dog out.

Having the vehicles constantly running year round, even if they’re not moving, puts a lot of wear and tear on the engine and other systems that are on while the vehicle is running, Haven said. This has a tendency to shorten the life of the engine and its support systems.

Another minor problem is dog fur, Haven said. Troopers clean out the vehicles on a daily basis, but the fur still gets trapped in cracks and crevices and the ventilation system for the vehicles, eventually causing problems.

There is a chance that DPS may get the funding to upgrade and replace some of the equipment for the Canine Division. The Legislature is currently negotiating approval of the state budget. Both houses called for a recess in the talks until June 10 due to the Memorial Day holiday. The extra time might allow the Troopers Association to negotiate with legislators for funds for the Canine Division. The leaders of the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives also have the option to recall legislators for their individual houses before June 10.

Wildfires near mining towns in Pinal, Yavapai counties destroy numerous homes

Wildfires near mining towns in Yavapai and Pinal counties destroyed dozens of homes and other structures this week, but no injuries were reported.

The Spur Fire that started Thursday afternoon in the community of Bagdad in desert hill country about 100 miles west of Phoenix prompted authorities to issue 570 evacuation notices to residents. By Friday, residents were allowed to return.

There have been no reports of injuries in the town of about 2,000 people and there were conflicting reports about how many homes burned.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office estimated in a statement that 25 to 30 homes “were lost” while the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management said 13 homes plus at least 10 other buildings were “confirmed destroyed.”

The fire burned 150 acres in Bagdad after it started and was contained around 50% of its perimeter as of Friday night, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management said.

An initial investigation indicated that road work may have started the fire but the investigation was continuing, the sheriff’s office said in a statement Thursday night.

Air tankers and helicopters dropped fire retardant and water on homes, brush and dry grass and a shelter was set up at an elementary school in the town of Wickenburg, about an hour’s drive from Bagdad.

Bagdad resident Jerry Hoddy told azfamily.com that he grabbed his phone, a briefcase with important documents and three fishing poles after learning about the fire from a neighbor who banged on his door while he was taking a nap.

Hoddy said he later learned his duplex was destroyed but that he was thankful he and others escaped without injuries.

“My involvement with sports all through high school and college has prepared me mentally for most disasters that life can throw at you. We’ll all get through this as a community,” said Hoddy.

Aerial video streamed Friday by azfamily.com showed multiple gutted or flattened homes, some with charred vehicles parked in driveways, amid apparently undamaged homes.

At one home, a motorboat in the backyard was the only large object that appeared to survive the fire. At another home, a rooftop air-conditioning unit was off-kilter and apparently in danger of falling down into an adjacent gaping hole in the roof.

The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management was mopping up the remains of the Simmons Fire northwest of Kearny on Friday.

The eastern Pinal County fire broke out Wednesday afternoon and was 70% contained at 20 acres Friday. The fire was burning west of State Route 177 between Kearny and the Asarco Ray Mine.

Four structures, including three possible homes, were destroyed in the fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The department also announced that Stage II fire restrictions are in effect on state owned and managed land in Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, Pinal and Santa Cruz counties.

Under Stage II restrictions the following actions are prohibited:

  • Campfires and smoking outdoors even in an improved campground. Devices that use liquid petroleum or LPG fuels that can be turned off and on are permitted but can only be used in an area that has been cleared of all flammable material within 3 feet of the device.
  • Target shooting
  • Fireworks of any kind. They are never allowed on state land at any time of the year.
  • Internal combustion engines.
  • Chainsaws cannot be used from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Welding or operating a torch with an open flame
  • Explosives

Exemptions to the restrictions include:

  • People who have a written permit that specifically authorizes a prohibited action
  • Driving on a designated road, as long as the driver parks in an area devoid of vegetation within 10 feet of the roadway
  • Any federal, state or local officer, rescue personnel or firefighter in the performance of their official duties
  • All land within a city boundary, unless otherwise stated by a city ordinance