The Political Notebook 1.20.23
The politics of government shutdowns; where Hobbs is better than Ducey regarding school choice; the legislature and the open meeting law.
Republicans, nationally and here in the state, are particularly dense regarding the politics of government shutdowns and related events, such as not increasing the debt ceiling.
These are big political events, even if the shutdown is transitory. The voting public really dislikes government functions being put on life support because politicians can’t get something as fundamental as passing a budget done on time.
Moreover, for reasons understandable and highly predictable, Republicans will get most of the blame for any impasse that results in a shutdown.
Democrats are accurately perceived as more sympathetic and supportive of government and government programs. Republicans are accurately perceived as more skeptical and less supportive of government and government programs.
So, regardless of the circumstances, or the fairness, if there is a government shutdown, the voting public will assume that Republicans are more to blame, since they are less supportive of government in general.
That’s why the comments of David Livingston, House Appropriations chairman, were so politically maladroit. After a presentation regarding the budget proposal of Gov. Katie Hobbs, Livingston said: “What we really need to look at – in my opinion and based on this discussion – is how do we do layoffs for state employees come July 1st. That’s the direction we are going.”
It was said on Jan. 17, five months before the lack of a state budget starts to threaten a government shutdown. The state’s fiscal year begins July 1.
Livingston presumably meant invoking the prospect of a shutdown as a warning to Hobbs and her administration. That doesn’t require stating it publicly or at all. It is a well recognized budget backdrop this session.
Stating it this early makes Livingston and legislative Republicans seem indifferent to the prospect of a shutdown and unwilling to do much to avoid one. Which is exactly the wrong political signal to be sending publicly at this stage of the deliberations.
While Hobbs’ budget generally shows a lack of support for school choice and a competitive K-12 education system, one change she proposes is actually more aligned with it than a departure former Gov. Doug Ducey had crafted.
Ducey championed giving schools that performed well on state tests bonus funding, and there is currently close to $70 million appropriated on that basis. Hobbs proposes eliminating this performance-based bonus funding and instead put it into the basic state aid formula.
In the first place, the state’s testing regimen is a wreck and not a reliable indicator of relative performance among the state’s schools.
But even if it were better, basing funding on the outcome of a government test violates the market principles underlying the school choice concept. Under school choice precepts, the same amount of funding should be available to all students irrespective of the school attended. And that funding should go to the school chosen by the student and his parents.
Putting the money into the basic state aid formula is compatible with those precepts. Ducey’s performance bonus scheme is not.
A few weeks ago, the Arizona Supreme Court found that the legislature didn’t have to comply with the open meeting law even though there is a statute saying that the law applies to it.
This occasioned quite a few eyebrows to be raised and tongues to be clucked. However, the logic of the unanimous opinion, written by Justice Ann Timmer, is impeccable and inescapable.
The decision found that the issue of whether the legislature has to comply with the open meeting law was a “political question” not subject to being resolved by the court. The “political question doctrine” is a highly unfortunate term which the courts should abandon. How political a question is has nothing to do with it, as Timmer’s opinion is at pains to point out.
Instead, the doctrine applies to things that, under the separation of powers, aren’t for judges to decide.
In this case, the state Constitution says that the rules under which each chamber of the legislature operates are to be determined by that chamber. One legislature can’t bind subsequent legislatures regarding these operating rules. So, a statute – such as the open meeting law – that purports to dictate how the legislature is to operate in certain respects cannot trump the constitutional right of each legislature to decide such things for itself, in full.
The court wasn’t saying the legislature could act lawlessly. It said that the state Constitution’s plenary grant of operating rule-making authority to each legislature couldn’t be circumscribed by a statute. Despite the eyebrow-raising outcome, that’s hardly a controversial judicial finding.
Reach Robb at firstname.lastname@example.org.