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House Republican threatens vote against budget.

Byline: Hank Stephenson

Saying the budget agreement crafted by GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey is "not a conservative budget," Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, vowed to vote against it Thursday unless his colleagues agreed to several significant changes.

Republicans hold a slim one-vote majority in the Arizona House of Representatives, and as lawmakers prepare to put the final touches on a $11.8 billion spending plan and close out the marathon legislative session, Rivero's threat of breaking with his caucus puts the plan in jeopardy.

To pass the fiscal-year 2020 budget proposal, which is scheduled for a vote Thursday, Republicans will have to cut a deal to satisfy Rivero's demands, or negotiate with Democrats who have shown little appetite for working across the aisle.

House Republican leadership has previously boasted of their caucus' lock-step agreement on the budget deal, which was crafted behind closed doors by Republicans and the governor over the weekend, then shopped to rank-and-file Republican lawmakers Monday.

Instead, all eyes have been on the Senate, where a handful of Republican holdouts have threatened to vote against the budget unless Ducey and GOP legislative leaders agreed to concessions.

On Wednesday night, Rivero told the Arizona Capitol Times that House Speaker Rusty Bowers had not listened to his concerns about the budget, and unless GOP leaders agreed to changes, "I'm a 'no' on the budget."

Rivero complained that the budget was crafted in secret without input from rank-and-file Republicans, and that Ducey seemed to have gotten the better of legislative leaders in negotiations.

"This budget has not been transparent. That's a big problem for me. As a conservative, I believe in transparency," he said.

Specifically, Rivero said Ducey's plan to put $1 billion into the rainy day fund a sticking point for Ducey in negotiations was akin to stashing the public's money in "a bureaucratic slush fund."

Rivero wouldn't say how much, exactly, the state should save in its rainy day fund essentially the state's savings account which can be called on during an economic downturn, or for any other purpose. But he said when the government has $1 billion in taxpayer money just sitting there, it's too much.

And he argued the state should adopt an income tax reform plan pushed by his colleague, Sen. J.D. Mesnard of Chandler, rather than the one Ducey prefers, which is included in the budget.

As of Wednesday night, Mesnard was among at least three Republicans who had vowed to vote against the budget in the Senate, where Republicans can only afford to lose two votes from their caucus before they have to look for hard-to-find Democratic support for the budget.

While several other Senate Republicans have grumbled about the budget, and some have since had their demands met, Sens. Paul Boyer of Phoenix, and Heather Carter of Cave Creek were also still vowing to vote against the budget Wednesday night.

Both were concerned GOP leadership had refused to allow a vote on Boyer's legislation expanding the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual assault to bring civil suits against their abusers.

Rivero said he is also demanding lawmakers pencil in a low income housing tax credit as an incentive for developers who build low-income housing. However, he said he could wait for funding for that until FY23, as long as lawmakers put the policy on the books this year.

His final sticking point is more personal. Rivero, who is chair of the House Local and International Affairs Committee, said he won't support the budget unless it has funding for Arizona trade offices in Chihuahua and Guanajuato, Mexico, and in Israel.

Those offices would cost about $275,000 each in one-time funding, and about $200,000 annually in ongoing costs. But he said those offices are worth it because they would build relations between Mexico and Israel and create Arizona jobs.

Rivero said he's open to negotiations with legislative leaders, but so far, his demands have fallen on deaf ears.

"The needs, the considerations, of the people I represent have not been heard," he said.

Lawmakers are racing toward the end of a historically long legislative session, and are attempting to push through the budget before the Memorial Day weekend, after which absences will become a problem for Republican leadership, due to the Party's narrow majority in both chambers.

And Rivero knows that Republicans' slim majority in the House puts him in a strong negotiating position.

"Every vote counts," he said.

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Publication:Arizona Capitol Times
Date:May 23, 2019
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