Every single Democratic lawmaker in the Arizona House refused to show up for legislative business on Tuesday, preventing their GOP colleagues from moving forward on a budget that includes a $1.7 billion tax cut that would mainly benefit the wealthy.
The Arizona Legislature is furiously working to pass a budget by June 30 to avoid a government shutdown. Democrats say that Republicans, who hold the majority, are trying to quickly push through the package without their input and without enough public debate. Feeling like they were left with no other good options, Democratic members didn’t come to the floor Tuesday, denying Republican leaders a quorum to proceed.
The move was reminiscent of a recent battle in Texas, where Democratic legislators staged a dramatic walkout last month to block a bill restricting voting rights.
The Arizona House requires 31 members for a quorum, and Republicans have exactly 31 members of their caucus, but several of them were not in Phoenix on Tuesday. Democrats have 29 members.
“The public and our members need more time to analyze the measures Republicans negotiated in secret and stuffed into their budget plan, and what the long-term implications will be for our state before we debate this,” House Democratic Leader Reginald Bolding said in a statement, adding, “Dropping a dozen new amendments this morning that rewrite major portions of their plan to vote on this afternoon is inappropriate.”
State Rep. Daniel Hernandez (D) told HuffPost that Democrats had less than an hour to review the budget this morning. He said that in his five years in the state legislature, Democrats had never all taken such a dramatic step as they did on Tuesday to protest GOP measures.
“This is what happens, where the deal gets negotiated in the middle of the night and they drop it, trying to force a vote on it,” Hernandez said. “We weren’t going to allow them to do that without at least having the public know what’s in the budget, getting them to understand that this is the biggest tax cut Arizona has ever done, but it’s not for every Arizonan. It’s for the people who are making the most money at the very top.”
Republicans were already warning that they will pin a shutdown on Democrats if a budget doesn’t get done in time.
“If we don’t pass a budget, our state gov’t shuts down and the democrats will be to blame,” state Rep. Joseph Chaplik (R) tweeted Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Ben Toma (R) called what Democrats did “very disturbing,” “grandstanding” and “political posturing” in comments to HuffPost. He took issue with Democratic complaints that they were shut out of the process, saying, “The reality is these conversations have been happening for months, and everybody basically knows what’s in the budget. The bottom line is, their very first condition was no tax cuts, in which case there really was nothing to discuss in terms of the budget, because that is the most important part of the budget, in addition to all the other things we’re doing.”
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R) chastised Democrats for blocking the budget vote, reminding them of the consequences for state residents if the government shuts down. “Could we contemplate growing up and shouldering the responsibility together ― and think of ‘together’ more than ‘individual’ ― and pass a budget?” he said.
A recent report by the state legislature’s independent budget watchdog concluded that the tax cut being proposed by the GOP would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Arizonans.
Hernandez said Tuesday in regard to the budget that Republicans were “unwilling to work with us and they’re being completely unreasonable. Democrats didn’t have too many options other than denying them quorum to try and force them to the table.”
In the Arizona Senate, Republicans have commissioned a partisan postelection “audit” of the 2020 presidential results in Maricopa County, the state’s largest county, which Joe Biden won. It’s been widely discredited as a sham, carried out by a firm run by a Donald Trump supporter and largely funded by Trump supporters.