Gov. Doug Ducey could end the legislative standoff holding up a budget deal if he worked across the aisle, Democratic lawmakers said at a Capitol press conference Wednesday.
Unveiling her party's draft spending plan, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said it largely mirrored the Republican governor's — unlike a Senate draft shared last week that revealed a wide gap in GOP spending priorities.
That preliminary draft showed Republican senators rejecting Ducey's plan to funnel half a billion dollars into the state's rainy-day fund and slashing funding to new K-12 schools, universities and a program for low-income kids, among other differences.
"Compared to the Senate Republican draft budget that has been making the rounds, Gov. Ducey's budget looks downright reasonable, and it's a very good place for us to start," Fernandez said Wednesday, flanked by other state representatives.
"The question for Arizona is this: Is Gov. Ducey willing to accept a state budget that takes Arizona backward in a growing economy just to avoid working with Democrats? … Or does he want a budget that moves Arizona forward … but will require the votes of both Republicans and Democrats to pass?"
The draft from House Democrats includes "broad areas of agreement" with Ducey on spending, from funding KidsCare — a health-care program for children in low-income families — to boosting funds for new-school construction.
Democratic lawmakers also support the governor's planned funding increase for universities, as well as pay raises for correctional officers and other public-safety employees.
The House Democrat budget does not give the governor the $542 million he wants to put in the rainy-day fund to protect against a future downturn. Its suggested $466 million deposit, however, comes much closer to that figure than the $175 million from GOP senators.
The Democrats' plan does have some key spending differences when compared to Ducey's budget. It would allocate, for example:
- $200 million more for K-12 education "to replace outdated textbooks, computers, desks and other classroom materials."
- $100 million more for infrastructure needs, because "roads and bridges throughout Arizona are falling into disrepair."
- $40 million in "resources for our most vulnerable populations, including better pay for those who care for our developmentally disabled populations and low-income Arizonans who need long-term care."
- $30 million for the state's Housing Trust Fund, to assist with affordable housing and "break the cycle of homelessness and poverty that is impacting communities throughout Arizona."
'A healthy debate'
Fernandez said the state's projected surplus gives officials "the opportunity to address serious infrastructure needs," "the opportunity to save and guard against a potential economic downturn" and "the opportunity to not sell out our educators, our students and our most vulnerable Arizonans."
She said she would "guarantee bipartisan support" for a budget that took Democrats' changes into account.
A spokesman for Ducey has said the governor is willing to work with "both sides" on budget issues.
"We're in the time where there's a to and fro and a healthy debate on what the budget numbers are," Ducey told reporters Monday. "I'm still optimistic that we're going to have an excellent budget. (The question) is just going to be when we're going to get it."