The budget is finally done and is awaiting the Governor's signature now. After three iterations, this package of bills still fails Arizona's children, drivers, schools, universities, economy, and future. And if you thought last week's floor quote about "raw power" from Senate President Andy Biggs was bad, wait until you read what his seatmate (and possible future Speaker) Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Mesa) had to say last night on the House floor.
More 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:
--> Budget on Governor's desk: The majority party and the Governor made a deal on the budget and sent it through conference committee yesterday -- with no public testimony or input -- and on to the floor last night for final reads in both the House and the Senate. In the House, the main bill passed 36-19 with 5 absent, and in the Senate it passed 18-11 with one not voting. All Republicans voted Yes, and all Democrats voted No, with the exception of Senator Leah Landrum Taylor (D-Phoenix) who voted Yes because she got an amendment to give $125,000 to the Arizona Commission on African American Affairs.
The bill was not significantly improved by the conference committee -- in fact it ended up with much less than even the Governor had called for. No orthotics, emergency dental, or podiatry coverage for AHCCCS patients, more cuts to public schools, and Pima County JTED still gets cut back from full funding. After saving the state $5.5 million in bond refinancing the UofA gets only $2 million back (and their request for $15 million for basic research and $4.2 million for a veterinary school were ignored) while ASU gets $11.5 million and NAU $3.1 million. Neither CPS nor the Common Core school standards get anywhere near the funding the Governor requested, and preventive services to keep kids safe before they become a CPS case were left out entirely. No money was provided for the 6,600 kids in poverty currently on the waitlist for childcare subsidies.
In the course of debate, Eddie Farnsworth, candidate for Speaker of the House next year if Republicans keep their majority, came out with some interesting statements in support of this budget:
1) Too many CPS cases are "kids climbing trees reported by busybody neighbors"; and
2) "The American Dream is an illusion we can only find in our sleep."
I can't even think of anything to say in response to either of these outrageous assertions. Perhaps the only adequate response is political action. Together with the statements in defense of the budget last week that came from his seatmate Senate President Andy Biggs asserting government as raw power with no compassion or mercy, my colleagues across the aisle seem to be making a strong case for a change in the majority by the electorate this year. #RememberInNovember
--> Stealing from HURF to pay HURF: You may have noticed that I tend to ask a lot of uncomfortable questions up here. When I heard Speaker Andy Tobin (R-Paulden) boasting about how he was funding transportation for the first time in years by reducing the longstanding HURF shift from $120 million to $90 million (which means his and Biggs' budget still diverts $90 million in gas taxes away from road repairs and into the general fund), I asked some questions about where that funding came from.
The answers I received from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee led me to discover a new raid on the little-known Underground Storage Tank (UST) Fund. This pool of money was created many years ago in order to help pay for the mitigation of old leaking steel storage tanks underneath gas stations. It is paid for by a one cent per gallon gas tax. For several years now, there has been little to no need for tank mitigation because modern tanks are constructed with double-walled fiberglass that does not rust and leak.
Consequently, last year ADOT asked us to allow them to spend the balance of the fund over $60 million on maintaining state highways, given the need due to permanent decline in gas tax receipts that I have chronicled repeatedly in the Farley Report.
A last-minute budget amendment from President Biggs (which was slightly altered in conference committee to delay its implementation until January 1 of next year) stopped this desperately needed money currently flowing into the State Highway Fund, and left it in the now-unneeded UST fund to do nothing but gather dust. I asked JLBC the question: How much does the State Highway Fund stand to lose from this move.
The answer? $30 million a year, no longer available to fix our roads. The same amount that Speaker Tobin announced would be "restored" to our roads through the slightly reduced HURF diversion. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Net gain for road maintenance? Zero.
Less than zero, actually, given the impending bankruptcy of the Federal Highway Trust Fund in July and the subsequent loss of hundreds of millions of dollars from our transportation finance system. I'll say it again, as I have on the floor and from the rafters -- if we don't invest in our transportation infrastructure now, we will all pay the price sooner than later, and our quality of life and our economy will be in mortal danger. It's time to make this a major campaign issue.
--> Nights of the Walking Dead Bills: Now that the budget is over, we are preparing ourselves for the annual last-minute onslaught of bills seeking approval before we adjourn for good Sine Die, possibly as early as next Wednesday. Which means this is the part of session that needs careful observation. Even bills once thought dead can come back to life at a moment's notice.
Last year this season brought us the infamous ALEC-backed voter suppression bill HB2305 which was the subject of a successful referendum later in the year. There are several candidates for this year's infamy which need to be smacked down. Among them are:
Sen. Kimberly Yee's (R-Phoenix) SB1236 - Empowerment Scholarship Accounts - a massive expansion of the voucher system that would destroy public education in Arizona within ten years.
Rep. TJ Shope's (R-Coolidge) HB2526 - This predatory lending comeback dramatically increases the interest for small consumer loans (while doubling the origination fees) and traps people in a cycle of poverty that many of us thought was banned after Arizona voters overwhelmingly rejected payday loans in 2008.
Sen. Chester Crandell's (R-Heber) SB1227 - Eliminates all energy efficiency codes at all governmental levels throughout the state, increasing the monthly costs of owning a home.
Rep. Brenda Barton's (R-Payson) HB2339 - Forces private property owners to allow guns onto their property during public events, abrogating their private property rights and endangering the public.
This is just a taste of what may come in the next week or so. Things happen quickly -- dead bills can start moving without warning, other bills take over the body of unrelated bills and come back to life in a different form via striker amendments in Appropriations Committees, and still more are transmogrified by floor amendments to become sneaky shapeshifters. If this sounds to you like a horror story, your perception is accurate. I will be watchful with my sharpened wooden stake at the ready in case of imminent threat to you, my constituents. Wish me good fortune!
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley