PHOENIX — Arizona State House Education Chairwoman Michelle Udall told 12News that the legislature has the votes needed to hold a special session to address the Aggregated Expenditure Limit (AEL).
A lobbyist who worked with Udall in early October to survey legislators about their willingness to hold a special session, confirmed to 12News that she provided a list of “yes” votes to Gov. Doug Ducey’s office after Oct. 5th.
“We’ve worked together to confirm the votes, getting that list together. We had it on October 5th. We got the list to the governor by either the 11th or the 12th,” Udall said. “The budget we passed was a historic, bipartisan budget with incredible investments in education and part of the deal when we made the budget was to make sure the schools could spend that money.”
According to several lawmakers, Ducey made a bargain with Democrats in June when the budget was passed that he would call a special session once the election was over to lift the AEL.
A spokesperson for Ducey told 12 News last week there weren’t enough votes at the legislature and the governor was working on the issue.
Udall and lobbyist Meghaen Dell’Artino of Public Policy Partners surveyed state legislators in early October and notified the governor’s office they had the votes, Udall and Dell’Artino told 12 News Monday.
“We have been waiting to hear what’s next since then,” said Dell’Artino.
Asked if they are aware of any legislators who have changed their minds since early October, Dell’Artino and Udall said they were not.
The list they provided to Ducey’s office has the names of 20 Senators and 43 House members who are willing to hold a special session and vote “Yes” to lift the AEL, they said.
That number would be exactly the 2/3 of votes needed in the Senate and a little more than the 2/3 votes needed in the House.
12News asked Ducey’s office for comment Monday evening and is waiting for a response.
“I think it will be a little bit tricky to schedule it. I think we can work around it for a day that everyone can vote,” Udall said.
A special session would likely last three days, but all lawmakers would not necessarily need to be present for all three days, Udall said.
“We really need everyone there on one day, for one vote,” Udall said.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R), House Majority Leader Ben Toma (R), and Senate President Karen Fann (R) have declined interviews to discuss the possibility of a special session.
Toma provided 12 News a written statement in July, saying “near the end of the year” the Arizona Department of Education would need to inform lawmakers how much schools were estimated to exceed the spending cap.
“Until then, it remains unclear how much the legislature should vote to allow them to exceed,” Toma said at the time.
That notification arrived on Nov. 1, said ADE public information officer Jimmy Arwood. The ADE informed legislators in a letter that school districts are on pace to exceed the AEL by $1.39 billion
“It makes zero sense to pass a historic education budget one day only to turn around and make school officials fight to spend the money the next day,” said Arizona Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman in July
As 12News has reported, the AEL will cause a funding cliff to school districts during next semester if it is not resolved. The uncertainty caused by the AEL has already made it difficult for some districts to plan their 2022-2023 budgets. It also makes retaining staff more difficult, said Superintendent Greg Wyman of J.O. Combs Unified in San Tan Valley.
“Last year when we went through this, we had any number of people get nervous and just take jobs elsewhere… School districts in general just can’t afford to go through that level of uncertainty again,” Wyman said during an interview last week.
The AEL does not pertain to charter schools.
The spending cap, approved by voters in 1980, is widely considered a financial nuisance given today’s funding needs of schools.
Republican Senate President Karen Fann said in March she wanted to see the AEL “fixed.” She said new technology, for example, has made education more expensive.
“And I pray to God we can do it for our kids’ sake and our parents’ sake,” Fann told Senators at the time.
Last week Karamargin declined to discuss specifically what steps Ducey has taken to determine how many legislators are willing to participate in a special session.
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