Area lawmakers discuss looming state budget deficit | News

By Ken Sain, Managing Editor
5 Min Read

When state legislators return for the start of a new session on Jan. 8, they will confront dealing with a projected budget shortfall of about $400 million – or worse.

“I’ve heard amounts from $400 million to $1.2 billion,” said state Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, a Democrat representing District 13.

She made the remark Dec. 14 at a roundtable discussion between members of the Chandler City Council and four legislators who represent parts of the city, as well as Gilbert, Tempe and Ahwatukee. Also attending were Representatives Julie Willoughby (R-District 13), Patricia Contreras (D-District 12) and Senator Mitzi Epstein (D-District 12).

Willoughby and Pawlik represent LD 13, which also includes part of Gilbert, while Epstein and Contreras are in LD 12, which also covers part of Tempe and all of Ahwatukee.

All seven members of the Chandler City Council attended.

“I don’t know where the cuts are going to come. I’ve also had conversations with leaders, the majority party, where they assure me we are not cutting education,” Pawlik said. “I struggle to wrap my brain around that, when it’s the biggest part of our budget. I don’t know how we don’t touch that.”

Mayor Kevin Hartke, presiding over the roundtable discussion, asked each of the legislators some questions about the 2024 session. Then, each member of council was given a chance to argue for what they would like to see done at the State Capital this year.

Epstein, the Senate minority leader, said Chandler is the model Arizona city when it comes to managing water.

“The kind of long-term planning that Chandler has done in water is unheard of in the legislature right now,” Epstein said. “You’re being the leader of that.”

The city is asking the Legislature for a few things.

First, city officials want it to quit cutting its revenue streams. Last year lawmakers eliminated the rental tax, which cost the city about $11 million and is exacting a heavy toll as well on Phoenix, Tempe and Gilbert.

There was also a movement that failed that would have eliminated taxes on groceries. If that is revived this session and becomes law, it would cost Chandler another $14 million.

Second, Chandler wants laws changed that would make it easier to redevelop failing shopping centers.

This was in response to a failed effort in the last session to change zoning laws to make it easier for homebuilders to get necessary approvals over the objections of residents.

Homebuilders say they need less restrictive local regulations if they are to address a lack of housing in the Valley as more and more people move to the county.

“Our economic and housing redevelopment tool that we’re going to be presenting, we’d love to talk to each of you more about that,” Hartke told the lawmakers. “You can help us help I believe every city with affordable housing.”

The city’s proposal would allow it to retain control over its own zoning laws, which is a priority. It would allow cities to consider some options to help turn failing shopping centers into residential properties.

Still, the looming budget deficit and the fact this is still a nearly evenly split Legislature in an election year may mean few new initiatives get passed.

Contreras said she might consider putting a hold on the new initiatives that were passed in the 2023 session. Willoughby, who is on the appropriations committee, said she wants more firm numbers on where things actually stand with the budget.

“Everything right now is just kind of hearsay,” Willoughby said. “Obviously protecting K-through-12 education, public safety, those are all non-negotiables.”

Those confirmed numbers won’t be known until the spring.

Pawlik said she isn’t a fan of holding back on the new spending that was approved last year when the state had a huge surplus.

“There were a lot of transportation projects that were funded,” she said. “We haven’t been up keeping our roads and bridges. Those will be sorely needed.”

By Ken Sain, Managing Editor

2024-01-05 07:00:00 , – Vivrr Local Results in santan/news of type article

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