Home>Budget>Arizona Senate President Petersen on Budget, Abortion and Education
State Senate President Warren Petersen speaking with attendees at the 2023 Legislative Forecast Luncheon hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.
State Senate President Warren Petersen speaking with attendees at the 2023 Legislative Forecast Luncheon hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Arizona Senate President Petersen on Budget, Abortion and Education

Reflectes on the contentious legislative session

By Steve Kirwan, July 5, 2024 9:31 am

(The Center Square) – It was a momentous session at the Arizona legislature, whose session concluded last month with the passage of the state’s budget. Senate President Warren Petersen, a Gilbert Republican, has been at the helm of his chamber with 16 Republicans and 14 Democrats as they debated issues ranging from water to abortion to the crisis at the southern border.

Petersen has faced unique challenges with Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs and maintaining a narrow majority caucus that is not always necessarily united on every issue. However, the Senate President expressed optimism in a reflective interview with The Center Square at his Capitol office on Tuesday morning.

For starters, he touched on the budget, which did not raise taxes but had cuts across the board to tackle the state’s $1.4 million budget shortfall. Petersen, House Speaker Ben Toma, and senior staff for the governor played critical roles in hammering out the appropriations proposals in recent months, and it passed with Republicans and Democrats voting for and against the bills.

“Overall I would say it was a pretty good session, especially in the face of divided government,” Petersen said. “I’ve been here for 12 years and I’ve been involved in a lot of budgets. And this is the first budget where we cut state spending by 10% and then permanent cuts, you know, anywhere from 3.5-10% depending on the agency.

“Yet at the same time, we protected public safety, education and transportation…There’s this weird, interesting dynamic where you have a Democrat governor and then the Republican legislature,” he continued, adding that there’s different tactics employed when working with administrations of the same party compared with the opposite one.

Many Democratic lawmakers attributed the state’s deficit and subsequent cuts to the flat tax instituted and the universal Empowerment Scholarship Account program, both of which were signed into law under former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. The Senate President dismissed those criticisms of how the shortfall came to be as “completely illogical.”

“So a budget is really this simple: the economists give you a projection of revenue, and then you spend that based off of that projection, and then you have expenses. So we had a budget where we lined out all the expenses, it matched the revenue,” he said. “We came into the next cycle. Well, the revenue projections were off.”

“If you go back to 1912, every time the legislature came up with a revenue projection, guess how much was spent? All of it, it always all gets spent, whether it’s on a road or on education or on a tax cut, because a tax cut goes under the cost category because it lowers your revenue,” he said. “Everything gets spent. Conservatives will tend to spend it on tax cuts. Democrats will focus on social programs on the ends, but in the center where we kinda line up will be K-12, transportation, public safety, and we can usually find a lot of agreement there.”

On the aforementioned ESA program, it’s been a focus on Democratic lawmakers to significantly reign in the program, which currently has 74,822 students and growing. The reality is that it is an election year, and the narrow majorities in both chambers could result in a tied or even narrow Democratic-majority legislature, which could leave Hobbs with a united government to make drastic changes on education and a range of other issues.

“The ESA community seems to be pretty dialed in for the most part. I imagine there’s some people who aren’t as informed. They seem to be pretty informed. I think they know if we lose the legislature, the ESA program will be gone in Arizona. I also don’t think we lose the legislature,” he said.

When it comes to the border, Republicans sent House Concurrent Resolution 2060 to the ballot in November in hopes of making it a state crime to cross into Arizona through an illegal international entry point. The Senate President said if there’s a rightward shift in border policy federally, especially if former President Donald Trump takes office, that he says it would be easier to accomplish conservative goals on the issue.

“Instead of acrimony, you’ll see collaboration. And so you’ll see more, state and local, working closely with federal instead of federal literally trying to stop state and local from enforcing laws that they’re failing to enforce. It’s bizarre, like, what kind of a twilight zone are we in? Where government is not only enforcing a law, they’re trying to stop somebody else from enforcing the law. It is totally bizarre.”

However, the most headline-grabbing moment in the legislature was the effort by Democrats to repeal the near-total abortion ban law first created in 1864 and recodified in the 1970s that could have become enforceable based on a state Supreme Court ruling in the spring.

Emotions ran high at the capitol for weeks, but the repeal ultimately made it to Hobbs’ desk after all Democrats and a handful of Republicans in both chambers voted for the bill. Petersen said his primary focus was “unity” but said it was a “highly partisan and highly charged issue” that brought out “the worst of people, unfortunately, really on both sides of the aisle.”

“My focus was really just trying to be respectful to each other,” he said.

“My focus was ‘How can we navigate through this?’ And without deep wounds that, you know, we have a one-vote majority, we’ve gotta hold the majority. I don’t want it to get so, so much rancor that it just completely blows up the caucus. It was hard and it was difficult. It got pretty tense, but… We’re in a decent place right now,” the Republican added.

Story by Cameron Arcand

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Steve Kirwan
Spread the news:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *