January 28,2019 | TRIADVOCATES
1. Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting—especially if you’re a member of the Arizona State Legislature. Tensions are rising as we quickly approach the Jan. 31 deadline for Arizona to adopt a Drought Contingency Plan outlining cuts in Colorado River water allocations if a drought is declared. Thus far, the session has been almost entirely focused on efforts to educate all 90 members on the extremely complex world of water policy. Put simply, because of drought conditions in the west, Arizona and other states along the Colorado River are withdrawing more water than is currently being naturally recharged. If the Legislature fails to pass a plan by Thursday, the federal government has threatened to take over and create its own water reduction plan. While parts of the plan have been filed in both chambers, there is still a significant amount of work to be done over the next few days. The Senate hopes to take a bill to committee sometime this week. The House is not quite ready to take this step but we expect much movement on this topic over the next 10 days.
2. If you can’t remember the last time you saw this many exciting headlines about tax conformity (accountants, please disregard), it’s because, well, the topic usually goes unnoticed. Conformity is designed to make the filing of state tax forms easier, as Arizona residents can use the same definitions and figures from the federal tax forms for income and deductions, and it’s usually a pretty simple tweak. This year, however, it’s one of the key hot-button issues of the session. Why the sudden change? It stems back to 2017, when President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—the largest revision to the Internal Revenue Code in more than 30 years. The result is a sharply higher federal standard deduction for individuals, meaning many who used to itemize now will do much better without itemizing. But here’s the thing: Because there is no commensurate increase in the state’s standard deductions, Arizona taxpayers will be hit with the approximate $174 million burden. While Gov. Doug Ducey remains firm in his position that any additional dollars be put into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a savings account that can be tapped during the next recession and budget crisis, the Legislature does not appear to be on board with that plan. Two GOP lawmakers, Sen. J.D. Mesnard and Rep. Ben Toma, are running legislation that would reduce individual income taxes to try and minimize any potential tax increase that might occur by conforming with the federal tax code. The mirror bills passed on a party-line vote in the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, respectively. The bills are being rushed through the legislative process, as the state Department of Revenue has already begun processing income tax returns—returns that were filed using the higher tax rates, which the agency presumed would be approved by lawmakers. Oy.
3. Last week, the Legislature’s Finance Advisory Committee (FAC), consisting of independent economists, met to provide its forecast. While the group of outside experts is optimistic about Arizona’s economic future, the members maintain that caution is required. In July 2019, we will break the record of the longest economic expansion in the U.S. Historically, recessions occur as the result of a “shock”—not old age. A majority of economists believe the expansion will cease by the end of the 2020 calendar year. Even with this, the FAC believes Arizona will grow by 7% in 2019 and then will continue to grow just under 4% every year for the next three years. This is good news for policymakers, as they need new revenue to pay for proposed water issues, K-12 capital projects and pay raises for state troopers and corrections officers.
4. In a major upset over the weekend, former state lawmaker and U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward came out on top in a contentious three-way race for AZGOP chair. Ward, a loyalist to President Donald Trump, upended the race to lead the Arizona Republican Party by beating the establishment favorite and incumbent GOP chairman, Jonathan Lines, by a 633-526 vote. The outcome could have far-reaching implications for the party, as the right-wing leader will guide Republicans through the 2020 election cycle, playing a critical role in how the party messages to voters and how it spends money on races.
5. This afternoon, House Republicans blocked a vote to expel Rep. David Stringer, an outspoken conservative from Prescott, over revelations that he was charged with extremely concerning offenses in 1983. When House Minority Co-Whip Reginald Bolding introduced the motion calling for Stringer's expulsion, Republicans stepped in with a substitute motion and instead voted to recess their session, maintaining that the issue would be best addressed by the House Ethics Committee. They prevailed on a 31-28 party-line vote. The challenging dynamics in the House will be an added hurdle as the Legislature feels heightened pressure to address water and tax conformity—both extremely time-sensitive and contentious issues. Given that Gov. Doug Ducey has called for Stringer’s resignation, this was likely just the first of more motions for expulsion to come.
Rep. John Kavanagh, while introducing the Doctor of the Day on the House floor:
"We have a very experienced doctor who is on call today at the Capitol. With his diverse background, he is qualified to help the old members of the Caucus whose joints are failing and have a tough time getting around. In addition, he can help the younger members of the House who have a tendency to cry like babies."
“Drop” (A Bill)
To “drop” a bill means for a legislator to formally introduce legislation. When a measure is physically dropped in the hopper (a box in the clerk’s office), it is formally designated as a bill and gets assigned a bill number. Thus, the term “dropping” a bill. (This does not mean the sponsor is walking away from the issue and not pursuing it—quite the opposite.)
“Has the bill dropped yet?”
“The sponsor is working with stakeholders to finalize language and plans to drop the bill next week.”