What a difference a week makes. Late Wednesday night, Governor Brewer came to an agreement to support President Biggs' formerly untenable budget with a few changes, and we banged those bills through the Senate on Thursday. Publicly, the Speaker and the Governor are saying they are not yet completely in agreement with the President, but I heard behind the scenes that this is a done deal, and we may be done with session in a couple of weeks. Then again, a highly placed Republican leader told me last night that if the House makes changes, we may be here through June. Meanwhile in the Senate we are doing no work this week except waiting. The plot thickens and the details are after the Farley Pledge Break:
It's that time again! If you'd like me to continue serving you in the Senate, I need to get re-elected. In order to get re-elected, I need two things from you tonight: Signatures and funding.
1) Signatures: If you live in District 9, and you like the representation I have been providing you, you can now sign my nominating petition online by clicking on this link. It's really easy and will take no more than 30 seconds of your time, so please click and sign today, and urge your friends to do the same. It costs you nothing! Thank you!
2) Funding: I need to raise money to get the word out to voters on why I should be re-elected. The more you can give now, the less I will have to bother you later!
My opponents (whoever they may be) may get more deep pockets in their corner (given the new maximum contribution of $4,000 per person!), but I feel confident I can match them stride for stride with your passion for good governance on my side. Please help me out in any way you can, starting today. Thank you!
On to the news:
--> Senate Budget wrap: Last Tuesday night, a bipartisan group of legislators (including my Tucson High freshman daughter Gigi (pictured here with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor) shared a meal at the O'Connor House where we heard former legislative leaders from both parties tell us stories of how they used to work together across the aisle on the big issues of their day.
Ironically this conversation happened two days after the Biggs budget hit the Senate floor as a fait accompli. Worked out behind closed doors by a small group of Senators from one party, by the time it was viewed by the public there was no opportunity for change.
It didn't used to be this way. My first couple of years here the budget was introduced as a rough draft, openly debated in front of the public in both Appropriations Committees, then open to amendments on the floor of House and Senate. The public had time to evaluate and time to include our input.
That changed when Senator Russell Pearce took the helm of Senate Approps. At that time he shut down public testimony, asking the media, "Why should I hold hearings? Just to have 300 people sign up to whine?"
That ushered in an era of done-deal budgets that came out of closed-door one-party meetings, and were debated and voted in the middle of the night when even the media had given up and gone home. Transparency and accountability were thrown out the window, and the Arizona people suffered as a result.
To me, it is clear that the majority party should not abuse its power by shutting down the voices of the constituents who may not represent the majority of their voters. All our constituents deserve to be heard. And the legitimacy of our government depends on the governed respecting the process by which laws and budgets are enacted.
Last year was a breath of fresh air -- a bipartisan, moderate budget was adopted through an open process that involved both parties and the Governor, and the public was served once again. This year, the process returned to bad form.
Late Wednesday night, the Governor privately agreed to some changes which were then offered by President Biggs in the Committee of the Whole debate on Thursday. Democrats (and even one Republican -- more on that later) offered alternative amendments, but they were not part of the closed-door deal, so were rejected.
Here are the top five flaws with the revised Biggs budget that emerged:
1) No action on the childcare waitlist: Democrats offered an amendment to spend $25 million to eliminate the waiting list for childcare for 6,600 children in poverty who have parents that qualify as working poor. I debated President Biggs in an extended exchange on this very issue, and shared the chart below:
This shows the total open CPS cases of kids in trouble since late 2007. Childcare subsidies were slashed in 2010, when the number of neglect cases were at a low point. As the waiting list increased to 6,600, the cases of abuse stayed stable while the cases of neglect increased by around 6,000 for a total of more than 15,000 neglected kids.
The correlation is clear, and for common-sense reasons. Parents in poverty face a no-win choice -- stay at home to take care of your kids but earn no money to feed or clothe or house them, or go to work and leave your kids at home alone because your minimum-wage salary doesn't pay enough to allow you to pay for childcare. Kids left at home alone are at risk of neglect. That calculus explains why children in Arizona are in crisis.
And that calculus suggests the obvious solution: Invest in childcare to keep those 6,600 kids safe so they don't get in trouble in the first place. This investment saves kids' lives, and it saves taxpayer money from the costs of investigations, foster care, and another child in the system instead of contributing to our economy.
Sen. Biggs claimed that churches and nonprofits should take up the slack, and accused me of insulting poor parents as neglectful. I responded by explaining that even loving parents in poverty are being forced into being neglectful by our lack of support for childcare subsidies. They are placed in a lose-lose scenario, and if our state continues to pay insufficient wages to working families, it's our moral duty to help them find a way to take care of their kids while they work.
My point of view did not carry the day on the Senate floor, but many House Republicans were watching and were persuaded by my arguments. A large chunk of them are now pushing to include those childcare subsidies in the budget and will not support the package unless they are successful. As the House rumbles through their process this week, there is hope that we can save these kids.
2) School standards -- testing funded, preparation not: One change that the Governor made to the Biggs budget was the restoration of some of the money required to institute the Common Core assessment tests for Arizona K-12 students next year. Unfortunately the budget does not include funding for instructional materials or teacher training so that our kids have the knowledge necessary to pass those tests that will be required for graduation. This sets up our kids for academic failure just when we need them to succeed so we can compete in the global economy. This also needs to be corrected in the House. Now.
3) The UofA gets screwed big time: Yep, Arizona's original economic development engine got nothing out of this closed-door budget. President Hart asked for $15 million for new research labs for biotech breakthroughs, a new veterinary school, the Cooperative Extension, and building renewal funds. Democrats, and Republican former Senate President Steve Pierce (R-Prescott) offered amendments to right these wrongs, and they were each defeated 16-14. Pierce was so angry he boycotted the final vote -- the only Republican in the Senate to break with the party line. Republicans in the House are offering similar amendments.
4) HURF shift continues: For the last eight years, $120 million a year in HURF funds (primarily gas taxes) have been diverted from maintaining our roads to funding DPS. Given the declining revenues available to our transportation system due to all of us buying less gas and the gas tax's lack of inflation adjustment, we can't afford to divert ANY of what is an increasingly precious source of funding to keep our roads from crumbling. Rebuilding a road costs ten times a much as maintaining it.
Everyone I have talked with in the Legislature and the business community has agreed -- we must stop this shift. This is probably the issue that has the strongest bipartisan consensus this year. Speaker Tobin himself introduced a bill to stop the entire diversion and shift it back to cities, counties and state highways all at once.
So it is hugely disappointing to see that $90 million is still being diverted to DPS in the Biggs budget. The $30 million that would not be diverted from HURF when divided among the various cities, counties, and towns will probably fill about four potholes in Pima County. That may be exaggerating a bit, but not by much. Pima County drivers know we need the whole $120 million to stay in HURF this year as a start to get our roads back in shape. The House is working on this too.
Last night the House started Committee of the Whole on the budget and offered 92 amendments, primarily from a bloc of six Republicans who oppose the budget without changes, before the Speaker stopped debate and adjourned for the evening. Tobin realized that his six caucus-mates together with the 24 House Democrats standing together would stop the Biggs budget from moving forward. There is much arm twisting and horse trading happening today, so the roadblock may clear as early as tonight with a few agreements between the Speaker and this group.
In sum I think there is hope the House can fix this thing in some pretty significant ways, but the big question is what happens when it gets back over to the Senate. If Biggs and the Governor agree to the changes, we could end this session in a few weeks and things will look brighter for all of us. If a power struggle ensues between the chambers, this session could go on for a very long time and it's anybody's call where we end up.
The one thing you can count on is that I will be here to tell you about it.
--> Farley bills move onward in House: Yesterday, my SB1032 to protect public safety by standardizing the design of special license plates passed House Rules, and is awaiting third read on the floor along with my SB1134 to reduce reporting burdens and increase cash flow for small businesses at no cost to the state. Heading to the Governor soon, once the budget is dispensed with.
--> Comment on Tucson-Phoenix Passenger Rail: The three-year ADOT study to determine the best route and preliminary engineering for sorely-needed passenger rail between Tucson and Phoenix and beyond is nearing the end of its public comment period. I am partial to the Yellow route since it benefits the largest number of people, is a lower cost option, brings in the most destinations, and may be the most attractive route to attract a public-private partnership and smart growth. I also believe that the projected speeds can be adjusted upward on most of the line to decrease travel times.
You have between now and the end of May to let them know which route you want, why, and how badly you want it. You can attend an input session in person, or register your opinions online. Make your voice heard here.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley