PHOENIX (AZ CENTRAL) -- Republicans don't have much room for error in the Arizona Senate, where 17 of them hold seats and where it takes 16 votes to pass bills.
And right now, on the budget, they are in a deep hole.
Four Senate Republicans have said publicly they will vote against their leaders' budget plan. That leaves Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, without a GOP majority to move a spending plan forward.
Without a majority, Senate Republicans would have to win Democrats' votes to pass a budget, a rarity in recent years.
Some Republicans said the Senate GOP's budget plan, obtained by The Arizona Republic earlier this month, left them scratching their heads, wondering what happened to their budget ideas and why they weren't reflected.
One lawmaker said wants to repeal a vehicle registration fee. Another lawmaker will vote against the budget unless one of his bills passes, and a second lawmaker is backing him. For yet another, the whole budget looked rough.
With four Senate GOP lawmakers against the budget, the session, already dragging on, may not end anytime soon.
The public doesn’t get to weigh in on a legislative budget proposal until the chambers announce a public plan, which usually doesn't happen until it’s clear the governor and lawmakers can agree.
The Senate GOP documents, while preliminary and likely outdated by now, offered some clues as to what's holding up negotiations between lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey, who released his budget plan in January.
For his part, Ducey's team regularly says he doesn't negotiate the budget through the media.
But these Republican lawmakers aren't staying quiet.
Ugenti-Rita: Repeal registration fee
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said she will vote against the budget if lawmakers don't fully repeal the $32 vehicle-registration fee passed with last year’s budget to fund highway patrol operations.
“What is there to vote 'yes' on?” she said.
She has had a problem with the fee, which she called "deceptive," since it was first introduced. At the time the fee passed the Legislature, officials estimated it would cost $18. It ended up at $32.
Ugenti-Rita's bill to repeal it has passed the Senate, but it hasn't received a vote in full in the House of Representatives. Gov. Doug Ducey has signaled he doesn’t support the repeal.
The vehicle-registration fee is set by the director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, which Ugenti-Rita said gives inappropriate power to an unelected bureaucrat.
“It’s unnecessary. In a roaring economy, which the Ninth Floor constantly likes to remind us we’re in, there should be no reason for taxing people,” Ugenti-Rita said, referring to a nickname for the Governor's Office.
As a conservative, Ugenti-Rita said she must vote for a conservative budget, and for her, that means one that includes the repeal of the fee. She said she doesn’t see a path forward on the budget right now.
“We are in a good spot to do Republican things like tax cuts, especially repealing the ones that are deceptive and unpopular and unnecessary,” she said.
Brophy McGee: None of priorities in budget
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said she was “certainly a no” on the Senate Republican budget plan.
Her priorities — including funding for people with developmental disabilities, K-12 education, universities, and KidsCare — weren’t reflected in that document, she said.
“I’m not going anywhere until I get my priorities addressed; it’s just that simple,” Brophy McGee said. “That’s what I’m elected to do. … I’m prepared to be there as long as I need to be there.”
Brophy McGee considers KidsCare, a health-care program for low-income children, “an automatic,” something lawmakers must include in the budget.
She said the Senate GOP draft leaked to the media was one of the worst budgets she's seen in her years at the Capitol.
“I’m used to having us start behind the starting line, but I couldn’t even see the starting line,” she said.
Brophy McGee was more optimistic than Ugenti-Rita, saying she feels her priorities are being heard by Republican leaders and that the Senate is approaching a consensus.
Boyer: Problematic law more pressing than budget
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, drew a line in the sand on the budget nearly two weeks ago, saying he would withhold his vote unless lawmakers considered a bill that would give survivors of childhood sexual abuse more time to sue their attackers.
Under current state law, child victims have two years from the time they turn 18 to file civil suits. Boyer's bill — which Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, declined to give a hearing after Boyer wouldn't bend on changes — would give them seven years.
It also would start the clock at the point in time they realize and disclose that they were abused, rather than their 18th birthdays.
"Victims are often paralyzed from coming forward by the power and threats of their abuser, along with feelings of humiliation, shame, guilt or all the above," Boyer wrote in a column for the Arizona Daily Star.
"While there is no 'magic age' for a victim to come forward and report their abuse, we know that in most cases it takes decades to process the emotional and psychological trauma they’ve experienced as children who have undergone sexual assault."
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Boyer denounced Arizona as "the worst (state) in the nation regarding laws giving victims the ability to confront their abuser."
"The short window in Arizona doesn't protect the victim," he said. "It protects the perpetrator. At the very least, we should … give seven years from discovery, seven years from when the victim knew that they were harmed. And I'm not voting on a state budget until we do so."
Carter: Boyer is right
Sen. Heather Carter, who serves on the state's Human Trafficking Council, has joined Boyer in boycotting a budget vote until the state loosens the statute of limitations on civil suits for childhood sexual-assault survivors.
The Cave Creek Republican said the importance of the issue far outweighs that of a quick budget resolution.
"This is the second year Sen. Boyer has tried to address the gaping hole that we have in our state statutes to protect child victims of sexual assault," she said. "We need to give the child victims of sexual abuse the time that they need to come forward."
Carter disagreed with colleagues who feel the criminal-court side, which has no statute of limitations for child-abuse charges, gives survivors sufficient recourse.
"When a child comes forward as an adult to disclose the horrific abuse, that now-adult is saving future victims," she said. "That's what we have to focus on."
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