PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Senate reached a bipartisan agreement Thursday on a budget package that includes tens of millions of dollars of extra spending to prevent foreclosures and evictions as well as help for small businesses impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
The agreement hammered out between Republican Senate President Karen Fann and Democratic Minority Leader David Bradley passed with only token opposition. Its fate in the House, however, remained unclear. Just Wednesday, some Republicans called a relief package pushed by Democrats “pork.”
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The Senate deal adds to the “baseline” budget that the House has been advancing. Both chambers want to pass a basic budget that has been stripped of extra spending or tax cuts planned before the scope of the crisis became clear.
The deal provides $50 million in new spending to help prevent evictions and foreclosures, provide services for the homeless, assist small businesses and pay for food bank operations. The budget deal also includes longer welfare payments and a waiver from work requirements.
It adds to $55 million in emergency cash approved last week to fund virus response efforts.
Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said as part of the deal his Democratic caucus will ask Gov. Doug Ducey to issue an executive order slowing or stopping those housing actions and use the funding to help pay for the moves. The budget bill urges cities and towns to follow suit.
Fann said she told Republican House leaders that their plan needed work in the Senate.
“We explained that we did not have the votes over here for what they were doing over there, that we needed to get this together so that we had a comfortable bipartisan deal and we would send it over,” Fann said.
The House has approved measures funding K-12 schools and state universities, but the rest of the budget remained in flux Thursday evening.
Gov. Doug Ducey made some major moves on Thursday to combat the spread of the coronavirus in Arizona.
More importantly, they wanted many of the things Bradley negotiated with Senate Republicans, including more relief for workers who suffer financial losses in addition to ensuring basic state operations can continue.
House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez had earlier in the day called for boosted aid for welfare and food stamp recipients, and for other help for those affected by the economic fallout.
“We’ve got to make sure that people are taken care of – we just can’t cut and run,” Fernandez said.
Democrats warned that the trimmed-down K-12 schools package eliminated $68 million promised to schools to restore earlier cuts.
That $68 million for all schools is gone, but a similar amount of cash that goes to schools with high test scores drew the greatest ire from Democrats. They said most of that cash goes to schools in wealthier areas.
These Arizona businesses are currently hiring right now.
"The fact this budget for our K-12 schools preserves this program instead of allowing flexibility is the exact opposite of what we should be doing today," Rep. Kelli Butler said.
Republican Rep. Regina Cobb said passing a slimmed-down school budget now, even with the changes, is the way to go.
“At least this gives them a baseline to go with," Cobb said. “This give them assurance.”
House Speaker Rusty Bowers has said the basic budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 will keep government running during the crisis. It's been stripped of new spending priorities and the tax cuts many Republicans and Ducey were seeking. It spends $11.8 billion, about $500 million less than Ducey's January plan.
Both the Senate and House hope to send a stripped-down budget package to Gov. Doug Ducey, possibly by the end of the day. They then hope to adjourn until the virus crisis passes.
Both chambers unanimously passed a major proposal that would give schools that were ordered closed by Ducey to move to online or other alternative classes and free them from rules requiring testing and a minimum number of classroom days, among other provisions designed to give K-12 public schools flexibility.
Democratic Rep. Kirsten Engel said she had concerns it contained no funding to help schools but said she supported the bill anyway.
“It seems like it does cover many emergency situations we're facing as a result of this unprecedented health crisis,” Engel said.
The Senate passed and the House was considering a second emergency measure that will ease rules for workers who are sick or out of a job.
Ducey said the economic fallout of the efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus will have a big impact on a final budget enacted after lawmakers return. He said he’ll work with members from both parties and with the federal government on a list of ways to help employers and people losing their jobs. He did not offer specific ideas.
“Our social safety net is going to be stretched, and we're going to be the one stretching it as far as we can to protect the most vulnerable and to help real people in this tough economic time,” Ducey said.