The Arizona Legislature is dealing with its typical end-of-session battle — passing a budget. The session started at the beginning of the calendar year and has extended longer than it does sometimes. The big challenge now is to get the budget done, as the beginning of the fiscal year is little more than a month away and adjournment must follow budget completion.
Part of the challenge, which seems odd in a way, is that there is more money this year because of a strong economy. And that means more debating on what to do with the money.
The legislators have not been able to agree on a tax cut. That debate was triggered by changes in federal tax law that have given many Americans a reduction, but Arizonans are seeing the opposite effect unless changes are enacted here. Another sticking point is a controversial $32-per-vehicle fee passed last year to support the Highway Patrol. That came in response to persistent raids on highway construction funds over the years.
The fee has irked many residents, but in a state lacking sufficient road funds and resistant to higher gasoline taxes, the fee has helped. In fact, it provides $185 million a year, but it apparently will be phased out.
Other big issues are how much to increase education spending in various aspects, amid a trend toward higher support after years of decrease due to the Great Recession. Other pet issues for some legislators run the gamut, including health care, restoring the rainy day fund, housing and disabilities assistance. Pinal County legislators have thus far been able to include funding for key projects, including the Interstate 10 widening study supported by Rep. T.J. Shope and the farm irrigation support pushed by Rep. David Cook.
Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, summed up the overall situation pretty well by saying, “This is not new. We do have members every year that say, ‘I’m not voting on the budget unless I get X.’ We just have to work through that.”
Even though it may not always seem like it, the state’s having more money is better than having less. Agreement is likely to come soon.