After intense negotiations, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signs off on $17 billion budget package

Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs gives the State of the State address at the Arizona Capitol, Jan. 9, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Gov. Katie Hobbs has signed into law a $17 billion Arizona budget package that drew criticism from Democrats for failing to limit the expansion of a school voucher program.

“While it isn’t perfect, this budget is an important step towards making housing more affordable, building more roads, bridges, and broadband access, expanding children’s health insurance, and investing in our public schools,” Hobbs said in a statement Friday. “I’m glad legislative leaders were able to come together to deliver for Arizona, and I look forward to our continued partnership.”

The Democratic governor came into office in January with plans to undo the massive explosion in the voucher program, championed by her GOP predecessor, Gov. Doug Ducey. The program lets students apply to use public money for private-school tuition and other education costs.

Hobbs’ office had said the expansion siphons money from underfunded public schools and would cost $1.5 billion over the next decade.

But despite her criticism of the expanded vouchers, the budget negotiated with leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature by Hobbs didn’t include any caps on the expansion. The governor had proposed restoring the program to what it was pre-expansion. Disabled children, students living on tribal reservations, and students at low-performing public schools would still be eligible for voucher funds.

Some Democratic lawmakers still voted for elements of the package and lauded its $300 million increase in K-12 education funding and another $150 million for a fund that helps people with low-income housing, an eviction-prevention program, and transitional housing.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, hailed the passing of a “fiscally conservative” state budget and highlighted the protection of the voucher program.

Republished with the permission of The Associated Press.