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.

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