Saturday, March 7, 2015

Budget shirks difficult decisions, passes burden to Arizona families

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs released the following statement on today’s passage of the fiscal year 2016 budget.

Sen. Hobbs
“The budget passed today is not a document of sound fiscal policy crafted with the best interests of Arizona in mind. It is a ransom note to the people of Arizona, putting them on notice that there are no longer checks and balances in this state,” said Senator Hobbs.

“While we often disagreed with Governor Brewer, she ultimately served as a backstop to the worst elements of her party. With this budget, the ninth floor has demonstrated that they cannot be counted on to restrain the most extreme policies our state has ever seen.

“Arizona's Republican leaders have avoided making difficult fiscal decisions in this budget. Instead, they chose to pass that burden on to counties, cities, schools, universities, hospitals and ultimately on to the backs of middle class Arizona families and the poor.

“The damage done by this budget will echo for generations and hamper our economic competitiveness in the region.

“By ignoring the universal outrage from every corner of our state, ignoring the masses of parents and children protesting more cuts to their schools, and ignoring the painfully obvious detrimental impact this will have to our economy, Republican leaders have demonstrated their willful disregard for the people they have been elected to serve.

“The Legislature and the Governor should be above this. Our state deserves better.

“We believe that the people of Arizona are the only special interests that matter and we will continue to be their voice at the Capitol, fighting to protect our children, our schools and a prosperous future for everyone.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

GOP leaders ask Arizonans to "tighten their belts" while special interest handouts continue

On Monday, Governor Ducey told a reporter:

"We're doing what we're asking all of the citizens to do and small businesses, is to tighten their belt and to live within their means."

Governor Ducey is right, Arizonans have been tightening their belts. And he's also correct that we should expect the state to do the same. But this disingenuous statement is just another move in Republican leaders’ shell game where they say one thing and do another.

This statement ignores the fact that while state agency budgets were cut and our schools and universities slashed, the Republicans who made those cuts with one hand were handing out tax cuts for corporations and the rich with the other.

In 2010 voters approved a one-cent sales tax, which was sold as saving education but very little of which end up in our schools. Instead, a good portion of it was used to build more private prisons and give away more tax cuts.

Those tax cuts were sold as "jobs bills," yet our state still lags behind neighboring states in economic recovery. If Republican leaders at the Capitol had spent the one-cent tax revenues on education as promised, Arizona would possibly be more competitive than we are now.

A May 2012 report by ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business explains:

"Regional economic competitiveness is a function of many factors, the most important of which are the quality and availability of the workforce, the quality and availability of infrastructure, and costs. Labor costs are most significant; the tax burden is relatively unimportant."

When the people of Arizona tried to pass another one-cent sales tax in 2012 to support our kids’ education, Ducey and his dark money groups rallied to defeat it.

So here we are, once again, facing a budget crisis and calls for our schools, state agencies and the people of Arizona to "tighten their belts" and make sacrifices.

And here we see, once again, Republican leaders demanding this sacrifice of us while they give away more money for private prisons and as another $675.5 million in tax breaks for corporations are set to go into effect over the next three years.

The people of Arizona don’t want more private prisons and they don’t want more cuts to education. A Morrison Institute for Public Policy poll conducted in late January showed that Arizonans rank education as their top priority and feel that more should be spent on our schools.

It's time for the people of Arizona to say enough is enough and demand their government stop giving away their hard-earned tax dollars and start funding the agencies that protect our citizens and the schools that prepare our children to be competitive in a modern economy.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Senate approves Begay bill that protects Tribal children

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senator Carlyle Begay, LD7, released the following statement on the passage of his bill SB1080 (tribal social services agencies; information).

About SB1080:
SB1080 allows mandatory reporters to report child abuse or neglect to tribal law enforcement or social services agency if they suspect an Indian minor who lives on a reservation has suffered abuse. Mandatory reporters include medical practitioners, peace officers, child safety workers, the parent or guardian, school personnel and any other person who has responsibility for the care and treatment of the minor.

The bill also authorizes the Department of Public Safety to share criminal justice information with tribal social services agencies for the purposes of background checks on prospective adoptive parents and custodians of juveniles, and to investigate or respond to reports of child abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Senator Carlyle Begay:
Sen. Begay

"In every community there exists the critical need to build robust collaborative partnerships between government, law enforcement and social service agencies - both state and tribal. SB1080 will strengthen that collaboration and help ensure children on tribal lands are just as protected as those who reside on state land," said Senator Begay.

"By working together, sharing resources and information, our state and tribal social service agencies will handle life-changing situations in ways that make a positive difference in the lives of the people they serve.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Senate Approps passes Begay bill to help Tribal students attain higher education

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senator Carlyle Begay, LD7, released the following statement on the passage of his bill SB1220, including the strike-everything amendment that would create the Tribal College Dual Enrollment Program Fund.

The strike-everything amendment to SB1220 would allow Arizona’s Tribal colleges to help offset costs for dual-enrolled students. Dual enrollment permits a high school student to earn community college credit at both their high school and Tribal college. Arizona's three Tribal community colleges (Dine College, Navajo Technical University and Tohono O’odham Community College) each offer dual enrollment programs.

Tribal colleges would be reimbursed from the Tribal College Dual Enrollment Program Fund for tuition and fees that are waived for dual-enrolled students.

Senator Carlyle Begay:
Sen. Begay
"Dual enrollment proves advantageous for students in our Tribal communities. It allows them to ease the transition from high school to college and get a head start on a college career," said Senator Begay. "There is evidence that it also promotes high school graduation and improves a student's likelihood of remaining in college.

"We need to encourage more of these programs in rural and Tribal areas and this bill does just that."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Senate again chooses to restrict women’s personal health choices

Majority refuses to protect doctors from being harassed, threatened for doing their jobs

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs released the following statement on the Senate’s passing of SB1318, which would ban most abortion coverage for Arizona women who purchase plans on the national health care exchange. Senator Hobbs offered a floor amendment that would protect the personal information of doctors who perform abortions. That amendment was defeated.
Sen. Hobbs

“Whether you are for or against abortion coverage, we should all be able to follow common sense and agree that doctors who perform abortions should have their personal identifying information protected from those who would harass or threaten them and their families.,” said Sen. Hobbs.

“This is not a "solution without a problem" as many bills that pass through this chamber can be called. Sadly, doctors who perform abortion in this country have been assaulted, kidnapped and murdered by anti-abortion fanatics.

“Republican legislators, who are public officials, currently have a bill to hide their own personal information from the public because they are afraid of harassment and threats. Yet they think that doctors should be left open to harassment and threats.

“Instead of restricting a woman's right to make her own healthcare decisions, which SB1318 does, and creating hypocritical double standards, we should be focusing on bipartisan efforts to reduce the need for abortion in the first place.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Higher education must be a higher priority in the budget

The $75 million cut to our state universities that Governor Ducey has requested in his budget not only further burdens institutions that have seen their budgets slashed by 48 percent since 2008, but will further weaken our state's ability to recover from the recession and compete with other states economically.

It is well documented that cutting higher education funding jeopardizes the economic future of both students and the state. Here's why:

  • More and more jobs require a college degree as a prerequisite, with one report projecting that 65 percent of all jobs will require at least some college education by 2020. As this demand for educated workers increases, states that have made deep cuts to higher education during the recession but fail to quickly reverse those cuts will be at a distinct disadvantage to states that have restored their university funding.
So we know states that cut higher education will not be prepared to compete for jobs in the near future, but how bad off can Arizona really be? In this case, we're number one - but not in a good way.

  • Cut per-student higher education spending by 48.3 percent - the most of any state.

  • Increased university tuition by 80.6 percent - the most of any state.

  • Cut more than 2,100 positions; consolidated or eliminated 182 colleges, schools, programs, and departments; and closed eight extension campuses as of 2011.

In his state of the state address, Governor Ducey said, "In Arizona, education excellence is a priority." Yet he cuts an additional $75 million from our universities while committing $100 million over three years to build more private prisons. And word is the total cuts could be even more than $75 million - an idea the Arizona Republic called "troubling on so many levels."

This year's budget could prioritize education above incarceration but as it stands now, the only guaranteed future job growth looks like corrections.

Today at 2 p.m. our state universities will make their arguments for why we shouldn't make more cuts to higher education before the Senate Appropriations Committee. We urge you to join us in person or watch online and contact your legislators to tell them that higher education should have a higher priority in this year's budget.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Legislating through litigation

Unless the people of Arizona speak out against bad legislation and an out-of-touch Legislature, when Arizona historians look back at the legislative record from the first two decades of this century it’s quite possible they will call it the era of legislation through litigation.

Last week, a lawsuit seeking class action was filed against the state accusing it of negligence in the care of nearly 17,000 kids in state custody. The suit alleges the state has failed to care for these vulnerable children to a degree that “shocks the conscience.”

The state is currently negotiating a settlement with public school districts after a judge ordered the state to pay inflationary funding that the voters of Arizona approved in 2000, but which the state failed to pay.

Last month a public interest advocacy group announced it will be filing a lawsuit to force the state to pay public school districts building maintenance and soft capital funds, which pays for such things as text books and computers. Those funds have been cut by hundreds of millions in recent years.

Those lawsuits are the result of a Legislature that for years has prioritized tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy above the safety and education of our children.

It’s time to say enough is enough! Tell the Republican leaders in the Legislature to protect our most vulnerable citizens and to fund our kids’ schools.

But what do these legislative leaders do when every aspect of state government isn’t under their control? They run to the courts as well.

When the voters of Arizona made clear they don’t trust the Legislature to draw legislative and congressional districts, they passed Prop 106 to put it in the hands of an independent commission of citizens. Republican legislative leaders didn’t like that and are currently suing for the right to draw districts to their liking.

In the rare instance that a truly bipartisan effort like Medicaid restoration passes and is signed by the governor, the Republican leaders who were on the losing side of the vote don’t accept the loss as part of the democratic process. They sue again.

The worst case scenario for these lawsuits is not just troubling, it is devastating. The school funding ruling alone could bankrupt the state for years. Were Medicaid restoration to be reversed, hundreds of thousands of Arizonans could lose their health care and hundreds of millions in federal dollars would leave the state.

But that is how our current legislative leaders choose to govern – by passing bills with questionable constitutionality, by slashing budgets for child safety and schools to negligent levels and by suing to usurp the democratic process.

Future historians will write: “Crumbling schools and a child welfare system that let thousands of children slip through the cracks is their legacy, righteous indignation and privilege was their defense.”

It’s not too late to change history. Stand up for what’s right, for the priorities that will help put Arizona back on the right track.

Here’s how you can help: 
  • Call these Republican leaders and tell them this year’s budget must put our kids’ schools and abused children above private prison special interests.
    • Governor Doug Ducey: (602) 542-4331
    • Senate President Andy Biggs: (602) 926-4371
    • Speaker of the House David Gowan: (602) 926-3312
    • Senate Appropriations Chair Don Shooter: (602) 926-4139
    • House Appropriations Chair Justin Olson: (602) 926-5288 
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on what's happening at the Legislature.