In my previous six sessions as a legislator, I had always experienced a period of mourning during the week after we adjourned Sine Die. Good things had been cut, bad things had been enacted, and opportunities were lost.
This session was different.
Last Thursday at 3:00pm we ended the 51st Legislature First Special Session dealing with the budget, and last Friday at 1:00am we ended the 51st Legislature First Regular Session for good.
This time, the vast majority of what we accomplished was "for good".
The bipartisan, moderate, fiscally responsible budget passed during special session and signed by the Governor yesterday at 11:11am (pictured at left from my vantage point behind her) included the Governor's Medicaid expansion. As of this fall, 300,000 more Arizonans earning less than 133% of the federal poverty line will be eligible for healthcare, even those who are single childless adults.
Hospitals will be brought back from the brink of bankruptcy and healthcare premiums will stabilize since the cost of unreimbursed care will be dramatically reduced. The overall economy will be boosted by the infusion of $8 billion in federal dollars into Arizona over the next four years.
The budget also includes $148 million of increased investment in our K-12 public schools, universities, JTEDs, and adult ed and literacy programs, $69 million for Child Protective Services to keep our kids safe and ensure they will not be housed in office buildings anymore, adds $17 million to programs for the developmentally disabled, and leaves a structural surplus of $100 million by FY2016 without raising taxes or dipping into the rainy day fund.
We invest $1 million in the Arizona Commission on the Arts to be sent out in grants to arts organizations across the state, along with $1 million in the State Parks Board for capital improvements in our parks. I developed this idea and have worked it since January, gathering strong allies of both parties along the way.
This policy does not increase our overall state spending because the funds are derived from the interest earned by the Rainy Day fund -- which would otherwise have lain dormant, doing nothing for our economy. Instead, the money will be invested in small towns and big cities in every corner of the state, leveraging private funds to create a huge positive impact on our rural and urban communities while boosting the whole state's economy.
Finally investing in our arts and parks represents a huge victory for all Arizona citizens who treasure our Arizona heritage, landscapes and creative spirit. In past years, the Arts Commission and our State Parks Board willingly sacrificed their budgets and endowments in order to help us with our recent budget crises. Now we can begin to restore some of that sacrifice so that our state and our economy can benefit from their programs once again.
Huge thanks go to Governor Jan Brewer, Senators John McComish and Steve Pierce, and Representatives Ethan Orr, Tom Forese, and Karen Fann for their special efforts working with me to make this part of the adopted budget. Many other Senators and Representatives -- too many to name here -- from both parties across the state all played key parts in our victory by offering their support in key ways throughout this session.
The return on this small investment will be a renewed energy for the Arizona Comeback, driven by the determined entrepreneurial spirit of our arts community and our parks stewards and visitors. I look forward to the fruits of this powerful alliance for years to come.
On the final day of session, we bounced back and forth from special to regular session so we could also work on other bills besides budget. As members began to realize this would be the last day, we began a desperate dance to resuscitate stalled priorities. Folks in the majority had the opportunity to amend multiple bills into one in order to speed up the process -- one bill we passed that night had been colonized by seven previously separate bills.
One good stalled bill that came back to life was SB1146, a Steve Pierce (R-Prescott) bill that will increase penalties for dog racing tracks that abuse greyhounds, another is SB1080 from Don Shooter (R-Yuma) that extends for two years the one-cent per gallon gas tax for remediating leaky underground gas storage tanks. It turns out that not as many tanks are leaking as feared, due to increased use of double-walled fiberglass tanks instead of easily rusted iron, so the excess money collected will go to maintain our crumbling roads.
A down note for the day was the passage of Eddie Farnsworth's (R-Gilbert) package of voter-suppression bills, HB2305. Among other things, the bill would make it a felony to do your elderly neighbor a favor by collecting her early ballot and bring it to the County Recorder. We did defeat the bill 16-13 in the late afternoon, but after a fierce round of lobbying and threats by the Republican National Committee and Speaker Boehner himself, it was brought back on reconsideration and passed 16-13.
Given this bill could disfranchise thousands of voters, particularly the elderly who may be homebound, I have high hopes that the Governor, who has been showing excellent judgment lately, may well veto the measure. You can help encourage her to do so by calling her office, thanking her for the budget and Medicaid and the arts-parks funding, and asking for a veto on 2305. You can call 602-542-4331 or 800-253-0883 from outside Maricopa County.
I was not successful in bringing back to life my unanimously supported bill to help reduce paperwork while increasing cash flow for small businesses that collect sales taxes -- SB1162. Despite its status as a Key Vote for the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business, a conservative small business group), it never received a Third Read in the house. Why is an interesting story.
In early April, SB1162 appeared on a Third Read calendar with no obstacles in sight until it was mysteriously held. It turns out that House Majority Leader David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista) was upset at some civil but pointed comments I made on Facebook disapproving of his inclusion of an endorsement of their don't-ask-don't-tell policy in an otherwise innocuous memorial bill honoring the Boy Scouts. So he decided to use the power invested in him by his caucus to kill my bill, thus hurting tens of thousands of small businesses all over the state to satisfy a personal vendetta.
On Sine Die day, instead of spending my time reasoning with Rep. Gowan, I worked to save the Governor's second highest priority: TPT (sales tax) simplification. I have supported the effort since she brought it up in January and became part of the coalition of business leaders and legislators who were committed to passing HB2111 to make it easier to do business in Arizona, support our brick-and-mortar retailers, and stabilize municipal and state budgets by enabling us to start collecting $700 million annually in currently owed but uncollected online sales taxes once the federal Marketplace Fairness Act goes into place.
Negotiations lurched back and forth all session long, primarily between the business community and the League of Cities and Towns. Events had a history of changing very quickly as new information became old information very quickly. The bill had changed dramatically from introduction to the current state on the morning of Sine Die day. Both sides had given up quite a lot in good faith, but had become frustrated by the occasional lack of communication over deals that turned out not to be deals.
I took on the role of broker between the League of Cities and the business leaders. On that last morning, the League's final offer was turned down by the business community, so the league sent out word to their 91 mayors to call their legislators and lobby to kill the bill entirely.
Thing was, the two sides were not that far apart. People have been trying to reform the sales tax process in this state for decades -- unsuccessfully. I did not want to let that happen again on my watch -- the stakes were too high for the future of our economy and civic budgets to let personal differences get in the way. So I obtained a best-and-final offer from the Cities, then talked to the leader of the business team and obtained an expression of willingness to talk.
I then convened a meeting around noon with the the League, business leaders, Governor's staff, a couple of key Senators, and a couple of key Representatives. We went over the proposal line by line, vented, discussed, and then all sides accepted the offer in its entirety. For the next three hours, Legislative Council wrote up the final amendment, the wording was sent to the League, they cleared it with their Executive Committee, and the word went out to all legislators and mayors -- we had a deal, and the League was no longer in opposition.
Later that night, the final vote was unanimous with the exception of one vote against in the House. The Governor's #2 priority had looked dead in the morning. Within hours it was thriving and will lead us toward a stronger economy and more stable budgets for years to come. I am deeply grateful to all those who came together in a spirit of compromise for the common good.
We have now reached the last of the weekly Farley Reports this year -- I will continue to update you regularly on my Facebook page with breaking news, but otherwise expect me to clog your inbox on merely a monthly basis until next session.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley