Sad to say, the budget is a done deal. Last Friday night/Saturday morning in record time and in the dark of the night, with only one member of the media and between 20-50 intrepid members of the public looking on in the Senate gallery, the Senate passed--with the bare minimum of 16 votes (15 Republicans plus Carlyle Begay (D-Ganado))--a budget that may be the worst I have seen in my nine sessions at the Capitol. We were done by 5:45am, and the House passed it within a couple of hours after that.
With Senators falling asleep on the floor around me, I led debate through the night from 11:30pm to 5:45am, and never even felt drowsy. This budget needed to be taken apart piece by piece, with all its terrible features revealed in all their ugliness, and I was ready for the task. If you want to re-live the experience at a normal hour, please browse my Facebook page and/or review the video archives for March 6 on the Legislative website.
Majority leadership had the votes to win thanks to their success in obtaining Sen. Begay's vote in exchange for $160,000 for a Navajo community college in his district and the equivalent of about a mile of paved road in transportation funds. His seatmate in the House, Jennifer Benally, blasted him on the House floor, "We don't put our infrastructure before our children."
His was the vote that put the budget over the top, a vote that will devastate our education system and our competitiveness for decades to come. Prevention and education are investments, and there was no investment in this plan. Here are a few of the items I pulled apart publicly on the floor in the wee hours of Saturday morning:
--> Cuts to hospital and provider rates for those providing care to Medicaid / AHCCCS patients total $127 million over two years which mean a loss of another $508 million in federal matching funds from Arizona's economy over that time. More than a half-billion dollars will leave the Arizona economy and go to some other less ideological state. This requires a Federal waiver. If that does not happen, the budget will be unbalanced.
--> K-12 schools will suffer from a $352 million cut in district assistance and other areas, and TUSD is singled out for another $17 million hit starting this coming fiscal year, which will be shared by Pima County, likely leading to higher property taxes for Pima County residents along with cuts. The exact portion of the cuts/tax hikes will be apportioned by an unelected Property Tax Oversight Committee based in Phoenix. The inflation funding lawsuit settlement, which the courts have set at around $332 million, was funded at only $74 million. And $900 million in K-12 rollovers remain, a budgeting gimmick used years ago that has still not been paid back. This means that public schools are receiving their state funds not in advance, but as reimbursement -- 90 days in arrears.
--> Community colleges in Pima and Maricopa Counties are zeroed out completely from state funding. Pima College Chancellor Lee Lambert called this "irreparable."
--> Universities are cut $99 million in FY16, with UofA's portion $28.4 million.
--> JTED programs are cut by $30 million in FY17, despite the pleas of 35 JTED students from Andrada Polytech High School in Vail, who drove up Friday morning and stayed watching in the gallery until 2am when they drove back home. Their school -- and many others -- may be closed by these cuts and the students' careers are in danger.
--> $1 million was taken from a fund for consumer protection in the Attorney General's office and given to a new Division of Federalism which is charged to find ways to sue the Federal Government.
--> Cities and counties received more raids -- they will now have to pay for collection of sales taxes and juveniles in state prisons, although they will be able to bid against the private prison companies to provide 1,000 extra male medium security prison beds in 2017.
--> Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), cash assistance to mothers in desperate economic straits (often fleeing from domestic abuse) was cut to a 12-month lifetime limit -- the harshest limit in the US -- although currently the average length of claims is only 14-15 months. Those cuts may put more women and families in danger of destitution.
--> $10 million in cuts to the Department of Child Safety remain despite 16,900 kids currently in state care, and the backlog of cases rising, not falling.
--> Arizona arts funding is again zeroed out after two years of being funded at $1 million a year.
--> $360 million is left untouched in the Rainy Day fund. Is it raining yet?
--> and there was still no discussion (except from me) of suspending the remaining $675 million in corporate tax giveaways that will go into effect in the next three years or the $12.6 billion that disappears annually in special interest sales tax loopholes. The money is there, but the majority chooses to cut vital services instead of asking corporations to pay their fair share.
Although we Democrats (joined by Republicans Steve Pierce and Jeff Dial) knew we would lose this vote, it was heartening to see members of the public sticking it out with us in the gallery.
During one amendment wherein we were trying to add a provision fully funding inflation for K-12 schools, the voice vote was called against us and we called "division", a move whereby we force a vote count -- those for the amendment stand and are counted, then those against. When we Democrats (minus Begay) on the floor stood, I heard the sound of 50 chairs in the gallery folding up -- I turned around and discovered that everyone in the gallery had stood up with us. I was so moved and energized by that show of solidarity that I was never even tempted to sleep for the rest of the night.
This budget was opposed by nearly everyone. I received thousands of email against, and only five in favor. 56 people had signed in against the bills during the one and only public hearing -- Appropriations Committee on Wednesday night. One person signed in against -- a member of one of the dark-money organizations that funded Governor Ducey's campaign. And that person wasn't present to testify.
The business community took a gutsy stand, with the notable exception of the tax-cut-addicted Arizona Chamber. All other major business organizations--including Tucson Metro Chamber (whose Republican leader Mike Varney called the budget "draconian"), Southern Arizona Leadership Council, Tucson Hispanic Chamber (led by Ducey's campaign cochair Lea Marquez Peterson), Flagstaff 40, Greater Phoenix Leadership, and Greater Phoenix Chamber--came out against the budget's education cuts.
They were rebuffed by a Ducey administration which seems set on reading the Koch Brothers' Scott Walker-esque script regardless of how many Arizonans it offends, conservative or otherwise. Perhaps they feel that their path to continued success involves keeping happy only the out-of-state anti-government dark money funders who bankrolled his campaign in the first place.
The most surreal event from this whole surreal weekend was Governor Ducey's press release, the most creative example of Newspeak since George Orwell wrote 1984. In it he claims:
--> That it was a "bipartisan balanced budget". [Only one Democrat voted for it in exchange for two favors for his district. The balance depends on an iffy federal waiver and a settlement of the K-12 inflation lawsuit in the Legislature's favor. If these two things are removed, the budget is nearly $500 million in the red.]
--> That the budget "protects classrooms and child safety and essential services for vulnerable populations" [by slashing school funding at every level, $10 million from the Department of Child Safety, capping TANF benefits, cutting prevention services and affordable childcare, and
--> That he had provided more funding for K-12 than ever before [ignoring that we are educating more students than ever before, and funding them at lower levels than ever before].
--> That "schools will have more than $10 billion including state, federal, capital, and local funds" [ignoring that state funds are now at a record low and falling, making us last in per-pupil spending among the states].
--> That the budget "includes more than $600 million in general fund dollars for universities; 7% of the general fund" [while ignoring that general fund was $1.1 billion seven years ago with 30,000 fewer students representing 11% of the general fund].
--> That he "protected rural community colleges from reductions" [while he eliminated state funding from community colleges in Pima and Maricopa Counties].
Governor Ducey's priorities as demonstrated in this budget are clear and in lockstep with the priorities of the current Legislative majorities and their out-of-state funders. Give away taxpayer money to large corporations, slash public education, JTEDs, community colleges, and universities, chop away at the safety net, and let our infrastructure crumble.
It's time to wake up the sleeping Arizona electorate and get galvanized for unprecedented voter action in 2016. I only hope we can hold on until then.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson