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Petersen, Toma, and Hobbs
Petersen, Toma, and Hobbs (Photos: Gage Skidmore)

Toma, Petersen React to Hobbs’ SOTS Address

Despite a more measured, professional tone, Hobbs reverts to partisan talking points

By Steve Kirwan, January 10, 2024 10:53 am

Arizona Governor Katie Hobb’s sophomore SOTS (State-of-the-State) address was a marked departure from her first speech, which read like a big-government laundry list designed for a DNC rally. One year later, it appears that she’s starting to understand the intricacies of divided government. However, that didn’t preclude her from rattling off some predictable Democrat talking points, especially around abortion and her opposition to the state’s school voucher program.

House Speaker Ben Toma, R-27, summing it up concisely, stated, “This one sounded a little more gubernatorial than that (her first SOTS address). But there are definitely moments where it came back straight to that (DNC tone), almost like a campaign speech.”

One rare point of agreement from her speech is the water issue wreaking havoc on Arizona’s housing industry. Current state law prohibits residential building unless the developer can prove a 100+ year water supply. The ruling applies only to residential construction, placing homebuilders at a disadvantage. It has been at the forefront of the ongoing housing shortage, and Hobbs agrees with Republicans that the law needs revisiting.

Representative Tim Dunn, R-25, praised Hobbs’ attempts at finding loopholes that could help home builders seeking permits outside the Phoenix Metroplex. Hobbs had previously acknowleged that Arizona needs more housing and noted that she was actively seeking a mechanism to allow rural communities greater control over their groundwater use.

There was also general agreement that the state budget, currently in a deficit position, needs cutting. However, that’s the limit of agreement, with Hobbs and Republicans at odds over the nature of the cuts.

Senate President Petersen’s recommendations are at odds with the Governor. Petersen, R-LD14, stated that “shrinking government and putting more money in the pockets of our citizens who are reeling from inflation” is a GOP priority. In 2023, Republicans, led by the Freedom Caucus, secured tax rebates of up to $750 per family, going to whom the Republicans see as most negatively impacted by taxes – families with dependent children.

As expected, Hobbs expressed a different view of budget cutting. She stated, “We will rein in wasteful spending without sacrificing public safety and public education.”

However, due to the lack of details in her speech, it remains unclear exactly where the Hobbs administration will cut spending. For now, an agreement in principle seems the best either side can expect.

Another unexpected area of agreement emerged during the speech – increasing teacher pay. Unsurprisingly, however, the source of that raise leaves Hobbs and the Republican-led legislature at odds. Hobbs mentioned that she would consider an extension of Prop 123 which allows the use of Arizona’s land trust income for education. Republicans want the revenues earmarked solely for teacher pay raises equalling $4k per year. Hobbs wants to use those same funds to include raises for support staff and “school safety.”

Hobbs stated, “By working together to strengthen Prop 123, we will prove to Arizona parents and students that we’re building the world-class public education system they deserve, and that our state needs for the future.”

Rep. Matt Gress, R-4, himself a former teacher, applauded the Governor for her intention to raise teacher pay but expressed concerns over her Prop 123 references.

“I was surprised to hear that she didn’t go as in depth into the Prop 123 renewal,” he said. He believes it’s a “travesty” not to place her complete emphasis on ensuring that each classroom has a “qualified teacher.” Funding other programs and support staff would dilute the impact of fully funding teacher pay.

However, fellow Republican representative, Majority Whip Teresa Martinez, R-16, disagrees. She expressed that a bipartisan agreement that includes additional pay for certain support staff is possible, stating, “I think that would be OK for some of the paraprofessionals and the bus drivers and the cafeteria workers.”

As expected, the post-SOTS rhetoric has been swift and hot, much of it focusing on Hobbs’ extensive use of her veto power. In her first year, Hobbs vetoed over 40% of the legislation sent to her desk, including some Republicans believed crucial to Arizonans’ safety and health.

Among the vetos included the prohibition of citizens from certain soft-on-terrorism countries from purchasing or leasing farmland in Arizona, a law labeling drug cartels as “terrorist organizations,” one outlawing so-called “CRT” lessons from state classrooms, a law outlawing transgender use of opposite-sex bathrooms, and one legalizing street vendors of homemade foods, to name a few.

Hobbs has promised to continue using the veto, vowing she is ready to expand its use in the coming year. Speaker Petersen has labeled her use of the veto as “senseless,” characterizing her as unreasonable due to her “inexperience.” It remains unclear how this will impact Republicans’ plans for 2024 and beyond, given their narrow majority in the legislature.

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