Monday, March 27, 2017

Arizona Legislative Democrats FY18 Education Policy & Fiscal Priorities

Education

Investing in public education, including K-12 schools and universities, is critical to changing the trajectory of the state. Democrats have prioritized efforts to reduce class sizes, correct the teacher shortage problem and develop long-term solutions that will provide our schools the resources they need.

This session, Democrats introduced a package of bills to properly invest in our educators, students, and schools. Taken together or individually, we strongly recommended that the Legislature consider these items in order to move our K-12 education system forward:  

Teacher Salary  

  • The first step in achieving these goals is providing our classroom teachers an immediate 4% salary increase starting in FY 2018. 
  • Arizona ranks 50th in teacher pay, with teachers earning just $45,477 compared to the national median teacher salary of $54,120. (NEA 2015-2016)
  • We recognize the Executive's FY 2018 budget provides a raise for teachers, but the immediate impact is negligible – a mere .4% increase in the first year does little to address inadequate pay and alarming turnover rates.    

Building Renewal & Soft Capital 

  • The building renewal funding formula to repair and maintain school buildings was repealed in 2013 and replaced with a grants program that is less than one-tenth of what the formula funded. Last September two Glendale elementary schools were forced to close due to emergency repairs.
  • The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates that the now-repealed formula would have generated $289 million for the current fiscal year. The FY 17 budget appropriated just $31.7 million to the building renewal grant program.
  • Governor Ducey's budget proposal continues hundreds of millions of dollars in annual direct cuts to schools for school maintenance and soft capital like technology, textbooks and classroom supplies. 
  • Democrats propose reinstating the building renewal formula in statute and increasing funding 10% per year until the formula is fully restored.
  • Addressing soft capital needs is critical to supporting our schools and requires an intentional effort to reverse these devastating cuts to education. Suspensions of these district and charter additional assistance formulas have totaled more than $2 billion since 2009.
  • Democrats propose increasing funding to District Additional Assistance by 10% per year until the formula amount is fully restored.

Prop 301 Renewal

  • Approved by the voters on the 2000 general election ballot, Prop 301 monies provide a key source of financial support for schools and are scheduled to expire in June 2021.
  • Democrats propose referring Proposition 301 renewal to the 2018 General Election ballot and increasing the amount from .6 to 1 cent, which would generate over $400 million additional dollars to support teacher pay increases, reduce classroom sizes and begin to turn the corner on our statewide teacher recruitment and retention crisis. 
  • 77% of Arizonans want to renew Prop 301 and 65% agree with Democrats that we should renew at a full penny. Now is the time to make that commitment to the children of our state. (SFC).
  • Volkswagen Emissions Settlement
  • 30% of our school buses fail safety inspections and schools are constantly forced to prioritize building repairs over basic needs because of lack of funding. 
  • Democrats support using the $48 million in funding received from the Volkswagen Emissions Settlement for the purpose of purchasing or updating school buses in the K-12 education system.

Resources

With a population of nearly 7 million and growing, the need for vital state services and infrastructure will not diminish. Nonetheless, our current tax structure is stacked against the middle class and favors special interests. Reckless cuts have left Arizona without the revenue needed to meet the long-term needs of our state's population. We need tax reforms that more fairly impact taxpayers and create a consistent source of revenue to fund the priorities that voters have repeatedly said they value. Legislative Democrats are committed to starting a statewide conversation about how to fund the education system our voters and the business community strongly support. Our state's future economic development prospects are directly tied to educating the workforce needed for our businesses to grow and compete in a global marketplace.

Tax Credit Sunset Process

  • Establish a sunset review of all income tax credits to force the Legislature to proactively assess, debate and act to continue each individual credit

Tax Expenditure Review

  • Require the nonpartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee to review the return-on-investment for all tax expenditures to determine if they create new economic activity, generate revenue and lead to quantifiable job creation. 

STO Cap

  • Cap the School Tuition Organization (STO) corporate tax credit expansion and allocate the savings to teacher recruitment, retention and training. This will save $12 million in revenue in just the first year. 

Rehire Department of Revenue Compliance Staff

  • According to a recent study by the non-partisan Grand Canyon Institute, Arizona could increase annual revenue by $70-100 million dollars by hiring 100 additional collectors and auditors plus needed support staff.  

Finance Review Task Force

  • Create a state finance review task force comprised of legislators, agency representatives, economists, business and community leaders and stakeholders to review the expenditure and revenue sides of the state budget and recommend a reform package that provides for adequate and sustainable funding. The Legislature should ensure that the revenues of the state are sufficient to address the essential functions of government. Fund sweeps and other gimmicks are not an acceptable way to build a sustainable and structurally balanced budget. 


Legislative Democrats
K-12 Funding Proposal- FY'18

Proposed Investments
Teacher Raises                                           $136 M
Reinstate the Building Renewal Formula*                           $29 M
District Additional Assistance Formula increase*                           $38 M
K-12 school buses                                                   $48 M
TOTAL                                                                   $251 M
* First year of a 10-year, 10% per year funding restoration plan

Funding Sources
General Fund                                                  $55.6 M
Shift funding from the Governor's "credit enhancement" funds  $24 M
Freeze growth in corporate STO tax credits for private school tuition  $12 M (20% growth per year)
General Fund lottery revenue                                          $50 M
Revenue from adding additional DOR tax collection staff  $61.4 M
VW settlement for K-12 school buses                          $48 M
TOTAL                                                                          $251 M


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Friday, March 17, 2017

Lead sources in AZ schools are being identified and removed

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senator Catherine Miranda has been alerted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) that three drinking water samples from Amy Houston Academy in the Roosevelt School District showed levels exceeding the federal lead drinking water standard.

The samples were taken as part of ADEQ's Public School Drinking Water Lead Screening Program, which is testing schools statewide.
Sen. Miranda

"The safety of our children is always my greatest priority, so it is concerning to learn the students of Amy Houston Academy may have been exposed to lead in their drinking water," said Senator Miranda. "I have requested ADEQ keep me updated on the lead testing program's progress and have contacted Roosevelt Superintendent Jeanne Koba and Board President Norma Muñoz to confirm all corrective measures are being taken to eliminate any sources of exposure to their students.

"After years of budgetary neglect by the state, Arizona now has many aging schools in desperate need of repairs. I will do everything in my power to ensure the students of my legislative district can learn in schools that keep them healthy and safe by continuing to be a strong voice for increased education funding.

"I must express my appreciation to ADEQ for their proactive effort to test every school in Arizona and their quick response to inform the public and act swiftly to ensure the safety of our children."

Friday, March 10, 2017

Business/Education Forum holds inaugural meeting

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – The recently created Arizona Legislature Business/Education Forum held its first meeting of the 2017 Session on February 27th in the historic Supreme Court Chamber of the Old Capitol Building.

Sen. Miranda
The topic of discussion was "Autonomous and Electrical Vehicles" and featured a presentation from executives of Lucid Motors, including: Peter Rawlinson, Chief Technology Officer; Brian Barron, Director of Global Manufacturing; and Zak Edson, Director of Marketing and Communication. They presented a thorough overview of their company and the innovative electric vehicle scheduled to be manufactured at a new plant in Casa Grande, which they project will bring over 2,000 jobs and more than $700 million in capital investment to the region by 2022.

Joining the panel discussion with Lucid executives Rawlinson, Barron and Edson were: Dr. Maria Marper-Marinick, Chancellor of Maricopa County Community Colleges and recently named the 2017 Valley Leadership Woman of the Year; ADOT Director John Halikowski; and Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, Executive Vice President of Knowledge Enterprise at ASU. 

Senator Miranda said that the Forum offers a unique opportunity to strengthen the relationship between business and education.

"Education is the key to economic success and community prosperity. As legislators, we must enlist our business community to share their knowledge to make long-lasting impacts that will benefit our community," said Sen. Miranda. "This forum provides a platform for policymakers and stakeholders to meet, hear unique perspectives and gain valuable insights that will produce practical and sustainable policy recommendations on the matter."

The event drew leaders of the business and education community as well as members of the Arizona Legislature.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Legislature welcomes Mexican Sen. Romero Hicks

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – At the invitation of Arizona Speaker of the House J.D. Mesnard and Representative Anthony Rivero, Phoenix welcomed last week the visit of the Honorable Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, Mexican Federal Senator of the State of Guanajuato.
                                                                             
Sen. Miranda
Senator Romero Hicks, a member of the National Action Party and former Governor of Guanajuato, visited the Arizona House of Representatives during a joint session of both chambers to deliver a message of unity and good will. The Senator spoke about the current state of Mexico-U.S. relations and the desire of the Mexican people to continue the good relationship between Mexico and the U.S.

During his address to the Legislature, Senator Romero Hicks spoke about the mutual problems Mexico and the United States are currently facing and the benefits for our countries of working together towards the achievement of common goals. He expressed the need to stop blaming each other for our problems. "Let's try to solve our problems together," he said. "If we are going to be neighbors forever, why not build together a great North American community."

Arizona State Senator Catherine Miranda, LD27, had the opportunity to talk with Senator Romero Hicks, as well as with his political advisor, Juan Hernandez. She said she is looking forward to working with our two countries to maintain the good relationship between Mexico and Arizona, in view of the existing political climate around our nation. She also expressed her willingness to continue working for a shared prosperity.  

Senator Miranda commended Speaker Mesnard and Representative Rivero for the opportunity to hear Senator Romero Hicks, whose message was very well received by legislators.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Communities, families and environment must remain focus of NGS transition plan

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX –  The legislators from District 7 issued the following statements regarding the announcement from the Navajo Generating Station owners that they will continue operating the plant until 2019, pending the approval of the Navajo Nation:

Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron (District 7)
"NGS opened in 1976 and was expected to operate for 68 years until 2044. The current plan is to close the plant 25 years earlier than expected.  The southwest, the nation and the world have benefitted from the Navajo Generating Station, but the communities surrounding the plant remain underdeveloped, and now the owners are planning an exit.  The reality is we cannot allow what the mining industry did to our tribal nations after the Cold War to be repeated. I am looking forward to working with everyone on this transition, the length of which depends on the leaders of the Navajo Nation.  I hope the recent announcement is sincere and not a stunt to renegotiate a new lease, which would further undervalue natural resources and undercuts revenues going to tribal nations. We must seize this opportunity to develop an industry that can carry on for centuries in the renewable energy sector.”

Rep. Wenona Benally, D-Window Rock (District 7)
"With yesterday's announcement on the closure of NGS, we must now focus our attention on ensuring that the transition is done in a responsible manner. The economic security of the communities impacted is paramount, and I look forward to working on creating opportunities for workers to receive significant job and skills training in other sectors, including the renewable energy industry. Additionally, I look forward to having further discussions about the plans for clean-up and restoration."  

Rep. Eric Descheenie, D-Chinle (District 7)
"My heart goes out to the working women and men who are directly impacted by this issue. All those who are stakeholders in NGS need to commit publicly now how they plan to ensure our families have every opportunity to transition from these unearned circumstances. By that, I mean leaders created the dire circumstance we have before us. Leaders created this, not our families doing their best to make an honest living. I implore leaders to chart a new path, one that is responsive to traditional knowledge and environmental sustainability, in addition to economics. Anything less is unacceptable."

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Senator Hobbs appoints Amy Chan to Clean Elections

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs today announced the appointment of Amy B. Chan to the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

Ms. Chan is an attorney and former elections director for then Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

"Amy Chan and her wealth of election law knowledge will be a valuable addition to the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission," said Senator Hobbs. "Her dedication to defending its mission and its voter-protected ability to enforce election laws are welcome at a time when the Commission finds itself under attack from those who fear transparent elections."

Previously, Ms. Chan served as legal counsel and policy advisor for the majority in the state Senate, administrative law judge for the Arizona Corporation Commission and on staff at the state Departments of Real Estate and Corrections.

Ms. Chan earned her J.D. from Arizona State University and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Arizona.

Her term on the Citizens Clean Elections Commission expires in January of 2022.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Senate Democratic priorities for the 2017 session

Protecting essential services and planning for the future
Budget Priorities for the 2017 Session
Arizona Senate Democratic Caucus

The state of Arizona is facing a challenge that was created by this Legislature. Years of corporate tax cuts - falsely passed as 'jobs bills' - have left state agencies hindered and the critical services they provide limited. We can and must do better for the people of Arizona.

We must prioritize the programs and services that voters have said time and time again - in poll after poll - they overwhelmingly support. Our public safety nets must be strong, our roads must be repaired and expanded, and our public schools must finally see an investment that demonstrates a commitment to the future of our children and our state.

Long-Term Investment in our K-12 Education System

Prop. 123 finally paid school districts some of the inflation funds owed to them by the state, but K-12 education needs more resources to ensure Arizona children have the skills to compete for the jobs of the future. More than a year after Prop. 123's referral to the ballot, and eight months after its approval by voters, we are finally hearing talk of restoring lost funds to our district schools. But the devil is in the details and we can no longer accept an inequitable education funding system that leaves our state's schools among the lowest funded in the nation.

To begin a long-term investment of putting significant new funds in to Arizona's schools, we propose:

  • Sending Prop. 301 for renewal on the 2018 general election ballot with an increase from 0.6 cent to a full one cent. 74% of Arizonans support such an increase, which would result in approximately $430 million annually in funding for K-12 education and other beneficiaries;
  • Allocating $28 million for teacher recruitment, retention and training ($16 million from ongoing funding and an additional $12 million from freezing the corporate STO tax credits);
  • Directing $35 million in one-time funding for classroom resources such as technology, curriculum, tutoring and classroom aides, and;
  • Using the money awarded to Arizona from the Volkswagen emissions settlement to purchase fuel efficient buses for school districts.

Prioritizing Education over Incarceration

We believe the state's priorities are out of balance when an average of $23,826 is spent annually to house a prisoner in our state while only $4,500 in state funding is spent on average to educate a K-12 student and just $5,300 is spent on resident students in higher education. The failure to invest in our education system creates a cycle that feeds our prison system instead of our economy.

With one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, it is time for Arizona to develop specific sentencing and parole reform efforts that will modernize our corrections system and save taxpayer dollars. We must invest directly in our education system to show a commitment to prioritizing our education system.

We propose directing the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission to study sentencing and parole reforms and make recommendations that include:

  • Revising the "truth in sentencing" laws to allow non-violent offenders to obtain earned release credit at a rate of one day for every three served and reducing the mandatory minimum sentence served guidelines;
  • Removing the ability to re-incarcerate a person for technical or minor violation of terms of release (both probation and community supervision);
  • Dedicating all savings from sentencing and parole reforms to the Arizona university resident funding model, focused on achieving the ABOR goal to fund 50 percent of resident student tuition from state appropriated funds. This would lower in-state tuition costs and provide more Arizona students the opportunity to obtain a higher education;
  • Stopping the expansion of private prison contracts and reinstating the Joint Select Committee on Corrections to provide the Legislature with oversight of the Department of Corrections and private prisons, and;
  • Allocating new federal funding for substance abuse treatment in diversion programs designed to minimize costly incarceration time for nonviolent offenders and decrease recidivism rates.

An Ounce of Prevention for a Pound of Progress

After years of reform and millions of dollars, Arizona's child welfare system continues to struggle with high caseloads, startling staff turnover and children languishing in a foster care system that too often fails them.

Children in this system are at very high risk of academic failure, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, sex traffic victimization and incarceration, and the majority are entering this broken system because of situations of neglect that very often are tied closely to poverty in the home and are preventable.

Independent reviews of the Department of Child Safety show that reforms proven to address some of these issues still have not been implemented. And in recent months, DCS has refused to even share reporting data with legislators in a timely manner and cooperate with the Auditor General's recommendations.

We propose:

  • That DCS implement the Chapin Hall and Auditor General recommendations for accountability measures and DCS leadership be held accountable for their failure to act with transparency;
  • Restoring TANF eligibility from 12 months to 24 months for $4 million to provide families on the edge of crisis an opportunity to complete job training and education programs that could lead to self-sufficiency;
  • Allocating $4 million to increase access to low-income child care subsidies to prevent families from being forced to place their children in unsafe environments to continue their employment, and;
  • Vigorously defending AHCCCS, KidsCare and the ACA from the current frenzy in D.C. to rip apart our healthcare system with no replacement plan of any kind. 80% of Arizonans agree there should be no repeal without replacement. To do so would nearly double the number of uninsured Arizonans, would potentially remove more than $3 billion from our economy and put our hospital safety net at risk.

Revenue and Budget Reform

As the 16th most populous state in the country and growing, the need for vital state services and infrastructure will not diminish. But we pay for these priorities through a tax structure that is stacked against the middle class and favors special interests. On top of that, reckless cuts have left Arizona without the revenue needed to meet the long-term needs of our state.

We need tax reforms that more fairly impact taxpayers and create a consistent source of revenue to fund the priorities that voters have repeatedly said they value. These goals can be achieved without increasing taxes this year.

We propose:

  • Capping the School Tuition Organization (STO) corporate tax credit expansion and allocating the savings to teacher recruitment, retention and training. This will save $12 million in revenue in just the first year;
  • Requiring the nonpartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee to review the return-on-investment for existing tax credits to verify they create new economic activity, generate revenue and lead to quantifiable job creation;
  • Establishing a sunset review of all sales tax exemptions to force the legislature to proactively assess, debate and act to continue each individual exemption, and;
  • Creating a state finance review task force comprised of legislators, agency representatives, economists, business and community leaders and stakeholders to review the expenditure and revenue sides of the state budget and recommend a reform package that provides for adequate and sustainable funding.  The Legislature should ensure that the revenues of the state are sufficient to address the essential functions of government. Fund sweeps and other gimmicks are not an acceptable way to build a sustainable and structurally balanced budget.

We can easily achieve these goals and we can do them this year. All that we and the people of Arizona need is a Legislature willing to serve the greater good, not special interests. If true fiscal responsibility and transparency are incorporated into the budget process, we can use the savings to protect the progress we have made, strengthen the critical services that only the state can provide and which the people of Arizona overwhelmingly support, and formulate a sustainable plan for the future. Senate Democrats stand ready to roll up our sleeves and work across the aisle to move our state forward. Our door is open.