The 2016 Budget Follies are over, and the bills are now on the Governor’s desk. The reviews are not good.
I’ll fill you in on many of the details after the Farley Report pledge break…
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—> Education funding in the adopted budget is slightly less of a disaster than the introduced version. Instead of a $21 million cut for K-12, there is a slight $30 million increase in the form of $15 million for building renewal in FY16 and another $15 million in FY17. Bear in mind however, that there are hundreds of millions of dollars in desperately needed repairs for crumbling school buildings so this increase is merely a drop in a huge bucket of need.
Gov. Ducey is claiming credit for a budget that “prioritizes K-12 education” with “$181 million”, but that figure includes enrollment growth and inflation. This budget spends the same per pupil as last year. He also defines as “new money” the $24 million that was appropriated two years ago for an unconstitutional scheme to let private charter-school operators use the state’s credit to obtain loans for their buildings — buildings they keep when they go out of business.
A number of the new cuts to K-12 were amended in such a way as to keep them from hurting schools this year, but the underlying cut was left in place for next and following years.
For example, the budget left in place the phasing out of district-sponsored charter schools which are thriving in places like Vail, where an active parent network is fighting to project their school along with district schools all over the state. Full funding would require $2.4 million, but they were scheduled to get $600,000 in the proposed budget. The final budget gives them $1.2 million, but keeps them on track to be shut down within two years.
Current-year funding, the not-ready-for-prime-time disaster that I described last week that would hurt all districts, particularly those with declining enrollments, will still move forward this fall, but there is money in the budget to give districts — for next year only — the money they would have received under prior year funding.
It’s a very sad state that we are reduced to being grateful that there are no further cuts to K-12, instead of being angry that we haven’t done anything to restore the $116 million in cuts enacted just last year to budgets for textbooks and computers in the classrooms, not to mention the hundreds of millions more that have been stolen from our kids since the onset of the recession. After the largest per-pupil cuts in the entire nation over the last eight years (23%), we should be pumping real money into our classrooms with THIS budget, given the more than $1 billion in cash on hand and in our rainy day fund.
Alongside the budget, I helped to kill HB2480, another effort to take away $9.2 million a year from TUSD, and it looks like we may have quashed other efforts to steal their desegregation money once again. The statewide private school voucher system also looks to be dead this year, but we will need to make sure that these bills stay dead for the last few days of this session and we must all keep them dead next year by electing a new pro-public education majority in November.
—> Also in the budget, Governor Ducey has been given approval to pack the Arizona Supreme Court with two more appointees, a blatantly partisan move that will hurt all of us for many years to come. Sadly, it is legal for him to do this since the Constitution only says that we shall have a minimum of five justices.
—> The Koch Brothers’ Economic Freedom Schools get $5 million a year in ongoing funding at UofA and ASU even though the universities did not ask for it. It is singularly ironic that the conservative majority is seeking to give public money to a public university to fund a private program dedicated to eliminating public education.
—> Governor Ducey’s Border Strike Force (which all 15 county sheriffs sent us a letter opposing) gets its $42.6 million over the next three years.
—> $26 million in new tax cuts passed, all of which are corporate breaks and loopholes, such as a “Fine Art” exemption that ensures one-percenters from out of state who buy art at Scottsdale art galleries can avoid paying Arizona sales taxes, while the in-state artists who create the art still have to pay sales taxes for their supplies to create that art. There are also sales tax loopholes for crop-dusters, agricultural feed, propane, and billboards, adding to the heap already in statute that removes more than $12 billion from our state’s revenues annually. We should be paring the current loopholes down, not growing more of these parasitic giveaways.
I offered an amendment to the budget to deal with this issue by adding a sunset clause to every sales tax loophole and income tax credit in current statute. That means that every ten years, each one of these giveaways must come back for review — just like we do with state agencies — and if it can’t prove its worth to the Arizona economy and get renewed, it goes away. That made too much sense to pass. It failed along party lines.
—> I also offered my adoption anti-discrimination amendment on the floor at long last. You’ll recall that the legislative majority has been fighting tooth and nail to stop this issue from even being talked about in public. They have been willing to kill their own bills to avoid discussing this amendment. But budget bills are germane to everything, so they could not stop me this time.
I simply believe that the statutory language that says a married man and woman should be given preference in adoption over same-sex couples and single people is morally and legally repellent and should be removed. Gov. Ducey agrees with me, and I read his official statement from last April, where he said, in this context, “all loving families should be able to serve as foster parents and adopt.”
Astoundingly, members of the majority argued that the statutory language was “just a preference” and simply recognized what is “best for children.” I pointed out that the word most often paired with “preference” not so long ago was “racial”. And if this language said that preference in adoption should be given to someone according to their race, we would have eliminated this reprehensible language long ago.
Sadly, the amendment went down along party lines. Again.
—> There were a few good things about this budget — I was able to help bring back my 2013-14 brainstorm and appropriate $1.5 million from the interest off the Rainy Day Fund for the Arts Trust so the Arts Commission can distribute the money in grants to artists and arts organizations all over the state. Last year, the arts were left out of the budget, so this is huge.
I also helped to stop the HURF raid for one year — $66 million will go to widen I-10 at Picacho from four lanes to six and to fast-track State Route 189 around the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales so that our infrastructure can compete with other border states for trade with Mexico. These projects will create good jobs while making our quality of life better. We need more transportation projects to get on track but at least this is a start.
—> The worst part of this budget by far was how it hurts low-income kids, and by extension our future. More than a half-billion dollars remain in surplus by FY19, but there is no restoration of KidsCare healthcare for 31,000 Arizona kids, even though that costs the state no money.
This was an utter failure of leadership on the part of Gov. Ducey, who refused to fight for it when he decided that it would be too tough to oppose six recalcitrant House Republicans and a stubborn Senate President. Gov. Ducey should be held responsible for the fate of those kids who will struggle with illness over the next year without the healthcare they need.
The Governor’s culpability aside, the most outrageous moment of betrayal was on the part of two legislators who previously portrayed themselves as KidsCare champions, but left when the moment came where approval was within reach. When 31,000 kids needed them to show political courage and resolve, they disappeared.
When the vote came up in the House, Rep. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Paradise Valley) took a walk, left the building and ate dinner in the Senate members’ lounge. When the vote came up in the Senate, Sen. Jeff Dial (R-Ahwautukee) was nowhere to be found. Until a few minutes later when he returned to vote Yes on the budget bill, now without the KidsCare amendment.
#RememberInNovember who was there for our kids when the battle was joined, and who turned and ran.
—> I have one more request for you tonight, as we head toward adjournment Sine Die in the next day or two:
This afternoon, over my strenuous objections, the Senate passed SB1248 that would enshrine in state law inhumane regulations for dog breeders that allow mothers to be confined in wire cages 6" longer than their bodies and 6" higher than their bodies, stacked on top of (or below) four other mothers in cages which only have to be washed once every two weeks.
This bill is now on the Governor's desk. Please contact his office and politely ask for a veto. You can email or phone him here.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
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