ARIZONA, USA — The battle for a special session for school funding revolves around a verbal promise made in June.
According to Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman CJ Karamargin and Chief of Staff Daniel Ruiz, Republican and Democratic legislators negotiating a budget agreement were communicating with members of Ducey’s senior staff.
Both sides eventually agreed on the budget package, which included universal school vouchers (known formally as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) and a significant boost to public school funding. Several pro-public school legislators agreed to vote for the deal after Ducey verbally agreed to call a special session before the end of the year.
That agreement was based on the stipulation that Ducey would be assured he had the 2/3 votes necessary to override the Aggregate Expenditure Limit, leaders involved in the deal said.
Ducey moves the goalpost, changes the stipulations of the agreement
Asked on Oct. 4 about a special session, Ducey told 12News he simply needed the votes.
“That’s the price of admission, I need the votes, and I haven’t seen evidence of them,” Ducey said.
It’s unclear what efforts Ducey’s office made to determine if he had the votes over the next two months.
A spokesperson for Ducey said his office was working with the legislature and leadership.
But several lawmakers told 12News that as late as last week, no one from the Governor’s Office or Republican legislative leadership had even contacted them to find out if they were available for a special session. A special session doesn’t just require political agreement. It’s a matter of logistics. Lawmakers need to arrange their schedules to make it happen.
On Monday, 12News asked Ducey on-camera what he was doing to determine if he had enough votes. Ducey did not answer the question directly.
“I've always said I'm not going to call a special session unless I have the votes and there are things in addition to the AEL I would like to see get done,” Ducey said.
Asked what those things are, Ducey did not say.
That response suggests Ducey is changing the stipulations of his agreement with lawmakers.
“The governor and his team know full well what they committed to,” said State Sen. Sean Bowie (D), responding to Ducey’s comment. Bowie said he was “very disappointed” but “not surprised.”
On Tuesday of this week, Senator Paul Boyer (R) said he was contacted for the first time by Senate President Karen Fann about his availability for a special session.
What is a verbal agreement worth?
What is a verbal promise worth in the halls of state government anyway?
A longtime, well-respected lobbyist at the Arizona Capitol who asked not to be named tells 12News that verbal agreements are a tool.
“Deals are made orally based on longstanding relationships and usually followed, but not always,” they said.
Phoenix College Political Science professor Dr. Albert Celoza said verbal agreements between elected leaders are as serious as their consequences.
“The cynical view is that promises are meant to be broken, and politicians make promises right and left,” Celoza said. “We have to evaluate the situation in terms of the consequence of that particular promise.”
Celoza said an issue like the AEL, which impacts nearly a million K-12 students, is a weighty matter. Legislators have a right to demand Ducey explain his reasons for not delivering on his promise, Celoza said.
Asked about 12News reports that legislators had not been contacted about a potential special session, Ducey said he did not report to 12News and walked away.
“We’re just asking the governor… to be a man of his word.”
“We’re just asking the governor again to be a man of his word not just to us, but to the 1 million Arizona school children in Arizona who would be harmed if he doesn’t take care of it this month,” Bowie said.
The governor realistically has about two weeks to call a special session before the holidays arrive, and legislators are likely to be on vacation.
As 12News has reported previously, Republican House Education Chair Michelle Udall (R) said last week the governor has a pathway to fulfill his promise. Udall said she and a lobbyist surveyed legislators before and after the election, and they have the votes needed to pass a clean override bill.
Udall said she planned to meet with Ducey personally about her request. 12News has not been able to confirm whether they met.
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The governor realistically has about two weeks to call a special session before the holidays arrive and legislators are likely to be on vacation.
As 12 News has reported previously /article/news/education/udall-ducey-disagree-on-willingness-of-legislators-to-override-school-funding-cap/75-9c29d56e-1b5c-4f19-84cc-ad9540672b06 , Republican House Education Chair Michelle Udall (R) said last week the governor has a pathway to fulfill his promise. Udall said she and a lobbyist surveyed legislators before and after the election and they have the votes needed to pass a clean override bill.
Udall said she planned to meet with Ducey personally about her request. 12 News has not been able to confirm whether they met.