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'The most urgent thing we're facing in terms of education funding': Hobbs making plans for special session to lift spending limit on public schools

In an interview on "Sunday Square Off," the Democratic governor said abortion legislation is on hold and responded to relying on "dark money" for the inauguration.

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs said Friday she plans to call a special session to lift a spending limit on public schools that threatens to blow up their budgets by March.

"It's absolutely the most urgent thing we're facing in terms of education funding right now, and it needs to get addressed," Hobbs said during Friday's taping of "Sunday Square Off."

"A special session is probably the best way to do that."

That's one of three takeaways from Hobbs' first interview on "Sunday Square Off" as Arizona governor after five days on the job.

You can watch the full interview on this weekend's "Sunday Square Off" at 8 a.m. Sunday on 12News.

Lifting spending cap on schools

The spending cap, formally known as the aggregate spending limit, is a voter-approved constitutional amendment that dates to 1980.

The cap will block K-12 school districts from spending more than a billion dollars the Legislature budgeted for them last year.

Districts have warned of potential layoffs, school closures, and other budget cuts if they don't get access to the money. 

A special session called by the governor would consider only subjects chosen by the governor. 

Hobbs said she would call a special session in order to lift the cap "as quickly as possible." 

Republican House Speaker-elect Ben Toma provided this response to 12News:  “It's an unnecessary political stunt. You don't need a special session to accomplish this.” 

This is the second year in a row that public schools have faced the fiscal cliff.

Last spring, the Legislature voted to let the schools spend the money they were given just days before a March deadline.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers believed they had struck a deal with former Gov. Doug Ducey last year to hold a special session after the election, in order to avert another last-minute spending cap deal. The session was never called.

The long-term solution, Hobbs said, is a statewide vote in 2024 to either adjust or remove the cap.

"This very antiquated spending cap ... doesn't work anymore," she said. "We need to do something more permanent than this annual exercise in suspension."

Since the AEL was approved by voters, the only ways to tinker with it are with another statewide vote or a three-quarters vote by both the House and Senate, which is unlikely.

Abortion focus is on 2024

Hobbs said any expansion of reproductive rights in Arizona was likely on hold until a planned statewide ballot measure in 2024.

Hobbs said she wasn't counting on the Republican-controlled Legislature to reform the state's 15-week abortion ban. The ban doesn't allow exceptions in cases of incest or to save the life of the mother.

"I don't see a path forward in this Legislature to roll back restrictions that are in place right now," said Hobbs, who made reproductive rights a centerpiece of her campaign.

The first-term governor and former state lawmaker said her appointed agency heads would play a significant role in protecting reproductive rights.

"We are working on making sure we have agency directors in key agencies like the Department of Health that are going ensure access to reproductive healthcare," she said.

"You're going to see work start right away on a ballot measure for 2024 that restores access to safe, legal abortion for patients who need it."

'We're being accountable'

Hobbs struggled to respond to criticism about a "dark money" fundraising organization, run by her campaign manager, that's paying for Thursday's inauguration at the Capitol and a "Governor's  Ball" Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort.  

RELATED: Hobbs offered dark money VIP packages to businesses, special interests at her inauguration

Hobbs' office belatedly disclosed the names of the donors to the Katie Hobbs Inaugural Fund but refuses to report how much they donated. 

Hobbs did acknowledge she signed off on using the fund but said, "I don't even know how much people gave, and no one in my senior staff does, either."

During her campaign, Hobbs vowed to run "the most ethical and accountable" administration in history.

"I think we're being accountable," Hobbs said. "We're sharing as much information as possible."

The inauguration fund - a private, non-state entity - is raising money on a state website. 

Hobbs, who oversaw campaign finance laws in her former role as secretary of state, declined to say whether that was proper.

According to documents filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission, the Hobbs Inauguration Fund was created in mid-December.

Donations can be used for more than just inauguration-related activities. The fund's purpose is listed as "supporting democracy."

Sunday Square Off

Watch previous interviews and segments of Sunday Square Off on our 12News YouTube channel. Be sure to subscribe to receive updates on new uploads!


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