While I always have some pretty upsetting things to report from the Capitol, I really do try to do my best to not leave you depressed and hopeless. But I gotta say, it's tough this year!
The far right is firmly in charge, and the Governor has shown no signs as yet of pragmatic moderation. He has not made any attempts to reach across the aisle to communicate with Democrats, even to those of us who have known him for some time.
The budget is a disaster for education and a windfall for private prisons, and although our statutes are rife with special-interest tax giveaways, no one on the Republican side seems willing to even have a discussion about getting rid of some of them in order to raise enough revenues to fund the services our citizens need -- in fact, more loopholes and corporate tax cuts are on the way.
And in the Legislature, the discussion among majority party members in this afternoon's Appropriations Committee was centered around disgust that 25% of the state's population is on Medicaid. This was not a disgust that this meand that 25% of our population is in poverty (in fact, we have the fourth-highest rate of poverty in the country), but rather their disgust that these "freeloaders" were purportedly able-bodied people who were choosing not to work so they could get government handouts.
I suggested we might be better off attacking the roots of poverty rather than insulting people who are working two or three jobs trying to stay afloat because their minimum wage keeps them below the poverty line and their employers refuse to provide them with healthcare.
Meanwhile, the dangerous bills are moving quickly through the process, as I relate below.
But first, some perspective on our state's new direction, graphically portrayed.
--> I asked for some figures from the economists at the Joint Legislative Budget Committee a few days ago and used them to create the graphic below that lays out just how dramatically this and the previous governor have shifted our state's priorities away from education and toward prisons.
Education spending are portrayed on the top three charts, and prison spending is portrayed on the bottom two. In each chart, the top bar is the actual amount of spending on education in FY2006, the bottom bar is the amount we should be spending in FY2016 if we had simply adjusted for inflation, and the red bar in the middle represents the amount Governor Ducey plans to spend in his proposed budget for FY2016.
The trend is clear. We have slashed education, and lavished our largesse on prisons, especially private prisons. We are spending 33% of what we would otherwise be spending on community colleges, and 230% of what we otherwise be spending on private prisons, if we had simply adjusted for inflation.
Share this vision of Arizona's present and future with other voters, and ask if they think we are headed in the right direction. Then make sure we all do something about it next election while fighting to make sure these priorities are challenged in the meantime.
--> Scores of good bills are not being heard simply because of the party of the sponsor -- in the House, more than half of introduced Democratic bills have never even been assigned to a single committee. Most of those in both House and Senate that have been assigned need to pass multiple committees (giving them a very tough pathway to a vote), and/or are not being heard by committee chairs. For example, I have 18 nonideological bills covering a wide variety of real-life issues which I have been drafting for months if not years, and only three have been heard in committee.
On the other hand, there are plenty of potentially devastating bills from the majority chugging through the process. Here are a few of the more egregious Senate bills that should be on your radar screen right now:
SB1434 (Lesko) would expand the private-school voucher program to any student that was denied admission to any school district or charter school within a 25-mile radius of the student's place of residence. This would apply to almost all of Arizona's students. Remember, these vouchers are not means tested. A rich family which already sends their kids to private school can simply get on the waiting list of a charter or district school that is full, then collect their $4,200-$30,000 tax-free from state taxpayers to subsidize their tuition at the private school of their choice. It will be heard Thursday morning in the Senate Education committee.
SB1463 (Ward) would give all students attending a C, D, or F school a voucher for between $630 and $4500 a year from taxpayer money to spend on any educational services or college, an exercise that would drain money out of the same schools they would continue to attend, guaranteeing continued failure. It will also be heard Thursday in the Senate Education Committee.
SB1371 (Lesko) would phase out desegregation funding for all school districts, even if they are currently under a court order to provide those services. This flat-out mean-spirited bill is focused directly at destroying TUSD by taking away $64 million a year, on top of the more than $8 million taken by the Governor's budget. I guess the majority believes it's time to just shut down school districts outright rather than bleed them dry with vouchers. This will be heard in my Senate Finance Committee tomorrow morning, and I will be heard talking about the devastation this bill would cause.
The gun bills are back and were heard in the interestingly named "Federalism, Mandates, and Fiscal Responsibility" committee this afternoon and both passed 4-2 with one not voting:
SB1291 (Smith) would invalidate any local law against firearms, and fines any elected or appointed governmental official or administrative agency head $5,000, takes away their ability to use public funds in their defense, fires them from their position, and allows anyone to sue them for $100,000+.
SB1330 (Ward) invalidates all federal law found (by whom is unclear) to be in violation of the Second Amendment, prohibits any governmental official or vendor or agency from enforcing any federal law relating to firearms or helping any federal agents in any way to enforce a federal firearm law, and takes away all state money to any political subdivision that does this, and fires all government employees and elected officials and bans them from office or government work for life and bans any offending vendor from doing business with government forever. And sends them straight to Hell. (OK, I made up that last part.)
And an anti-abortion bill is back tomorrow afternoon in Senate Health and Human Services:
SB1318 (Barto) would ban abortion coverage from any policy sold under the Federal Health Care Exchange, with exception for the life of the mother, but NO exception for rape or incest. It is unclear what authority the state has over the federally run Exchange. This despite the fact that abortion coverage is currently offered only as an additional rider with additional premiums.
--> This afternoon I heard the bad news that Charles Flanagan, the director of the six-month-old Department of Child Safety, had been fired by Governor Ducey (with less than a half-hour's notice) and replaced with a new director, deputy director, and management consultant. I don't have to tell you how big a problem we have -- nearly 17,000 kids are currently in care of the state, with not nearly enough foster homes to go around. We are one of only three states that are increasing in rates of neglect and abuse. Director Flanagan had the utmost integrity, compassion for the kids, and was willing to take on the Herculean task of turning this ship around. He had made great strides, but it will surely take longer than the six months he was given to do the job. I certainly hope the Governor was thinking of the best interests of the kids when he made this decision -- the stakes are awfully high.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson