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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Democratic leaders file amicus brief supporting Prop 206

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Today Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs and House Democratic Leader Rebecca Rios filed an amicus brief with the Arizona Supreme Court in the case of Arizona Chamber of Commerce, et al vs. State of Arizona, et al in support of the state's position that Proposition 206 does not trigger mandatory state expenditures.

The amicus brief, which can be downloaded here, explains:

  • The majority in the Legislature made the policy decision to cut provider rates since the Great Recession, without fully restoring them;
  • The majority in the Legislature made the policy decision to cut taxes, thereby reducing funds in the state coffers, at the same time it was slashing agency budgets;
  • Agency budget requests are merely requests and not mandatory, and;
  • The majority in the Legislature made the policy choice to use private contractors to provide services under Medicaid.

In summary, the amicus brief argues:
"The decision to cut tax rates and reduce the state's revenue is a policy choice within the discretion of the legislative majority. It is that same legislative discretion that allows the majority in the Legislature to slash appropriations for agency budgets, including provider rates. The combination of those discretionary actions – cutting taxes and reducing appropriations – has led to the fiscal crisis that AHCCCS and other agencies find themselves in today. It is not a result of the voters' approval of Prop 206."
Arizona Legislative Democrats have consistently, and for years, fought the reduction in provider rates and the tax cuts that deplete the general fund of the revenue necessary to meet essential state needs. We will continue to advocate for a full restoration of services for our most vulnerable populations.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gov. Ducey – let's work together to fund our schools

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Leaders of the Senate Democratic Caucus released the following statement:

"In yesterday's state of the state speech, Governor Ducey promised a lot of things we've been saying for years. His promises to help recruit and retain teachers, continue restoring funds to our neglected public schools, and restore TANF limits is refreshing. But the big question everyone's asking is how he will pay for it. Well, in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation we've put together some ways we can pay for it - easily and immediately.

  • Cap the school tuition organization (STO) corporate tax credit expansion and allocate the savings to teacher recruitment, retention and training. This will allocate $12 million in just the first year.
  • Redirect the ongoing $5 million per year "freedom school" appropriation to fund the Teacher Academies. Let the Koch brothers pay for their little pet project, not Arizona taxpayers. Trust us, the brothers can afford it.
  • Send Prop. 301 for renewal and increase the sales tax from 0.6 cent to a full one cent. This would result in approximately $430 million annually in funding for K-12 education and other beneficiaries.
  • TANF restoration back to 24 months is easy because any state investment is more than doubled by federal matching funds. Currently we're losing millions by restricting it to 12 months.
  • We even have a bonus proposal that isn't on your list: use the money awarded to Arizona from the Volkswagen emissions settlement to purchase fuel efficient buses for school districts.

"We're ready to work with you to get this done. In fact, for years we've been ready to work with Republicans to give the people of Arizona, the people we are elected to serve, what they have been demanding all along - strong state support for our neighborhood district schools.

"Our door is open, let's get this done."

Monday, January 9, 2017

Democratic leaders announce 2017 legislative priorities

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senate and House Democratic leaders today presented their priorities for the 2017 Legislative Session:

Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs (LD24):
Sen. Hobbs

"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.

"As the 16th most populous state in the country and growing, the need for these vital services will not diminish. But we pay for them through a tax structure that is stacked against the middle class and favors special interests.

"This Legislature must not endorse the current frenzy in DC to rip apart AHCCCS, KidsCare and Obamacare with no replacement plan of any kind. To do so would nearly double the number of uninsured Arizonans and would immediately remove more than $3 billion from our economy.

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

"Continuing the policy of slashing services for the working poor while forcing them to take a greater tax burden than corporations and the wealthy is unsustainable and grossly unethical. We must protect and strengthen the services that only the state can provide and which the people of Arizona overwhelmingly support."

House Democratic Leader Rebecca Rios (LD27):
Rep. Rios

"Democrats are working for a state where people can go to school, get a great education, find a prosperous job, live in a safe community and ensure their children have bright future. It is a state that is both prosperous and inclusive.

"Arizonans value equity and fairness, and it is our job to ensure the government represents those values. We have an obligation to be fiscally responsible, accountable and transparent.  To meet that mandate, Democrats will support programs and policies that build a solid foundation.

"That means investing in public education at the K-12 and university levels so schools have the resources needed to prepare our students for the future and so that college is affordable. When we prioritize education, we increase the strength of our future economy.  It also means protecting the gains we have made in individual rights and in access to health care, including Medicaid expansion and KidsCare.

"Our state is fighting to recover from decades of failed Republican leadership and policies, which put the needs of special interests above the needs of Arizonans. Democrats will always prioritize people over politics."

Monday, November 28, 2016

Democratic Caucus announces committee members

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs (LD24) today announced committee assignments for Democratic members during the 53rd Legislature.

(*) Denotes ranking member

Committee on Appropriations
Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford*
Sen. Steve Farley
Sen. Katie Hobbs
Sen. Martin Quezada

Committee on Commerce & Public Safety
Sen. Sean Bowie
Sen. Robert Meza*
Sen. Catherine Miranda

Committee on Education
Sen. David Bradley
Sen. Catherine Miranda*

Committee on Finance
Sen. Sean Bowie
Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford
Sen. Steve Farley*

Committee on Government
Sen. Lupe Contreras*
Sen. Juan Mendez
Sen. Robert Meza

Committee on Health & Human Services
Sen. David Bradley*
Sen. Katie Hobbs

Committee on Judiciary
Sen. Lupe Contreras
Sen. Andrea Dalessandro
Sen. Martin Quezada*

Committee on Natural Resources, Energy & Water
Sen. Andrea Dalessandro*
Sen. Lisa Otondo
Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai

Committee on Rules
Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford
Sen. Katie Hobbs*
Sen. Martin Quezada

Committee on Transportation & Technology
Sen. Juan Mendez
Sen. Lisa Otondo*
Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai