Thursday, May 4, 2017

Budget prioritizes partisanship over greater good

Senator Katie Hobbs, Senate Democratic Leader
Senator Steve Farley, Assistant Senate Democratic Leader
Senator Martin Quezada, Senate Democratic Whip
Senator Lupe Contreras, Senate Democratic Whip

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Leaders of the Senate Democratic Caucus released the following statement on the passage of this session's budget:

"A state's budget reflects the priorities of those in power and the priorities of Arizona's Republican legislators and governor are crystal clear.

Governor Ducey and Republican legislative leaders had every opportunity to work together with Democratic legislators, who represent more than 40% of our state, to find realistic solutions to the real problems facing our state.

But they chose to ignore us.

For weeks, legislative Democrats offered our support for Governor Ducey's forward-thinking university bonding plan. With our cities and counties held harmless, his plan is a reasonable start to restoring the billions of dollars Republicans have cut from our state universities.

But he chose to put partisanship over collaboration.

Without the full support on bonding from Republican legislators, Governor Ducey needed our votes. For our support, we asked for a meaningful four percent raise for Arizona teachers, who have the lowest salaries in the nation, and a clean restoration of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to 24 months.

Instead of prioritizing Arizona's struggling families and hard-working teachers, Governor Ducey chose to spend your hard-earned tax dollars buying off Republicans with $1 million to the Koch brothers' pet project at ASU, $10 million in tax cuts and a petty swipe at cities.

Governor Ducey proclaimed in his state of the state speech, "Along with Leaders Hobbs and Rios, I’m excited to continue working together on areas of common ground."

It's hard to imagine, but Governor Ducey must not consider teachers, the working poor and our universities to be areas of common concern.

The priorities reflected in this purely Republican budget are that of partisanship over democracy, special interests over the public interest and hollow talking points over meaningful substance.

Legislative Democrats, by contrast, have always stood for Arizona's poor, our students and teachers, our universities, our public servants and our businesses. We strive every day to serve all Arizonans.

Such was our intention with our gesture of bipartisanship, a missed opportunity to collaborate for the greater good of Arizona because of wrong priorities."

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ducey, Republican leaders eschew real solutions for partisan politics

Sen. Katie Hobbs, Senate Democratic Leader
Sen. Steve Farley, Asst. Senate Democratic Leader
Sen. Martin Quezada, Senate Democratic Whip
Sen. Lupe Contreras, Senate Democratic Whip
 Rep. Rebecca Rios, House Democratic Leader
Rep. Randall Friese, Asst. House Democratic Leader
Rep. Charlene Fernandez, House Democratic Whip


STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX Democratic leaders of the Senate and House released the following statement on the introduction of budget bills:

"Yesterday Governor Ducey and legislative Republican leaders introduced their budget bills, including a separate bill on university bonding.

"Republicans have known they don't have enough votes of their own members to pass university bonding, so we have been negotiating in good faith to support it in exchange for a clean restoration of the cruel and unnecessary TANF cut made in 2015, and diverting the governor's inequitable results-based funding to go toward teacher raises of 4%.

"Instead of working across party lines, they have decided to play partisan politics and pulled university bonding out of the higher education budget bill with the hope that enough Dems will be willing to leave struggling families and teachers behind to pass the bonding.

"That will not happen.

"Dems have always and will always stand up for our state's universities, which have been seen their budgets negligently slashed by Republicans for years. But we have also always stood up for Arizona's poor families and hard-working teachers who have been scapegoated and sacrificed in the name of conservative ideology.

"There is still an opportunity to work together to achieve both of these goals. We do not disagree with Governor Ducey's university bonding proposal. So long as our cities and towns are held harmless, it is a reasonable way to put a meaningful band aid on the damage that years of Republican neglect have caused.

"But rather than work with Democrats in true bipartisanship, Governor Ducey and Republican legislative leaders have decided they would rather risk university bonding than make a humane gesture to poor Arizona families and give our teachers a truly meaningful raise.


"Until they are willing to put ugly partisan politics aside and work with us, they will lose that gamble."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

LD7 Senator Peshlakai's Resolution endorsing AZ Veterans Services and Navajo Nation MOU is unanimously adopted

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX Senator Jamescita Peshlakai released the following statement on the Legislature's unanimous adoption of her Senate Concurrent Resolution 1028.

SCR 1028 expresses the Legislature's commitment to ensuring the cooperation of the Arizona Department of Veterans' Services and the Navajo Nation in an effort to increase the number of veteran service officers working within the Navajo Nation. The resolution officially recognizes the memorandum of understanding between the ADVS and the Navajo Nation that was signed on June 24, 2016.

Sen. Peshlakai
"SCR 1028 is a promise that the state of Arizona will collaborate with the Navajo Nation Veterans' Administration to have their staff federally accredited and working under the umbrella of the state Department of Veterans' Services. When implemented, this will be the first time tribal veteran service officers are able to file federal Veterans' Administration claims and benefits applications for our tribal veterans," said Senator Peshlakai. "This significant improvement will change the lives of many tribal veterans, their families and communities by not forcing them to travel many hours away from home to be able to receive these hard earned benefits.

"As a combat war veteran, I thank my legislative colleagues for stepping up to right an incredible wrong and oversight in our state. We must act now and purposely for our patriots and forgotten soldiers."

Thursday, April 6, 2017

ESA expansion is 'next step' in wholesale dismantling of Arizona public schools

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Leaders of the Senate Democratic Caucus released the following statement on the passage of SB 1431:

"Since taking office in 2014, this governor and his Republican legislators have gleefully claimed to support public education in Arizona, despite the hypocrisy of deliberately slashing funding for years and taking every opportunity to undermine our struggling schools.

"This year alone there are bills to remove $211 million from our schools, eliminate standards that ensure our children are taught by qualified teachers, and the governor's budget proposes an insultingly inadequate 4/10ths of a percent raise for Arizona teachers who are paid the least of any state.

"By passing this legislation Republicans are enabling a system that data show subsidizes affluent families, while poorer Arizonans are unable to use ESAs because they cannot afford the remaining costs of private-school tuition.

"94% of Arizona families choose public schools for their children and 77% of Arizonans believe the state should be investing more in those schools. It is long past time for the Legislature to honor their choice by adequately funding our public schools.

"But the Republicans who control Arizona continue to chronically underfund our public schools and have now chosen to further siphon money from them by expanding school vouchers.

"During today's floor debate Senate President Yarbrough stated, 'this is a very important day in the history of Arizona.' Sadly, he is correct. Today will be remembered as the 'next step' in the wholesale dismantling of public education in Arizona."

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.