Howdy, Friends O'Farley,
It happened as we knew it would, and it happened badly. The House budget passed on April Fools' Day, the amendments were agreed to by the Senate, and it is now awaiting the Governor's signature who has until Friday to sign it.
Unfortunately, this budget is no joke. And despite the headlines to the contrary, it's not balanced either. They agreed to push this year's $350 million deficit into the next year, and pushed the deficit and economic recovery further down the road by slashing jobs in education, health care, and child care, shoving the budget problem onto cities and counties who will then have to raise our taxes, and dismantling our education system from K-12 to universities.
If you want to hear an excellent take on what the Legislative Majority did, read yesterday's editorial in the Arizona Republic:
Here are a few excerpts from their opinion:
"Arizona will lose jobs, likely into the thousands, directly as a result of budget cuts. And our prospects for future employment will be weaker?. There are lots of ways to balance a budget. The Legislature picked one with tremendous potential damage for Arizona?. The numbers may work out on paper, but this budget is badly out of balance in the real world. It's unnecessary self-inflicted economic pain."
The process itself was outrageous in its opacity. We started work at 8:30am on Thursday morning, the budget bills were revealed around 1pm, and the final vote took place after 24 hours of work without a break at 8:30am on Friday morning. Most of the floor debate happened between 2:45am and 6:45am when the only person in the Gallery was the tireless lobbyist for the Arizona Students Association, David Martinez. All the media had gone home or were watching it on TV somewhere. I am not sure how that fits in with the majority's stated goals of transparency and accountability?
Believe it or not, the Legislature is exempt from the Open Meetings Law, but instead substitutes its own rules that can change at the whim of a Speaker or President. It is well past time to go to the voters to force the Legislature to develop, debate, and vote on budget in the clear light of day, and several of us are already talking about doing just that, so stay tuned.
In case you were one of the millions of Arizonans who were sleeping while the legislative majority were laying waste to Arizona's future, in the name of ex post facto transparency you can actually watch this all happen by viewing the video archives for the House Democratic Caucus dated 3/31/11 and House Floor Session parts #2-5 dated 4/1/11 at http://azleg.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=13
Perhaps the debate in the dark of the night is why Governor Brewer is still proclaiming that she "protected education", even though she is about to sign a budget that cuts more than a half of a billion dollars in one year from K-12, universities and community colleges. So much for that one-cent sales tax she promised would go to support education.
Perhaps the speed with which the budget was rushed is why the Governor and the legislative majority think that they finally will get lifesaving transplant surgery to the 98 Arizonans on the waiting list. In fact, the majority voted against Democratic amendments that would clearly restore transplant funding. Instead, they voted for an unfunded and weak "intent clause" that may not do a thing to help those patients.
Perhaps the closed-door budget development is why the majority voted for a $40 million tax on teachers -- reducing all teachers' take-home pay by increasing retirement taxes starting in the next school year, around the same time as they will be facing the daunting task of teaching classrooms packed with more than 40 kids. When Democrats sought an amendment to apply the same retirement tax to us elected officials, the majority voted against including themselves.
Perhaps the lack of public input is why the Governor also told reporters yesterday that she disagrees with the hundreds of millions of dollars in cost shifts from the state budget to county and city budgets -- shifts that will guarantee tax increases and reductions in public safety at a local level -- but she's going to sign it anyway.
Perhaps the exhaustion of members at 4am is why the majority voted to kick 160,000 people in poverty off their health care, a move that also will sacrifice more than $1 billion in federal matching funds each year and cost 14,000 Arizonans their private-sector jobs in the health care industry.
We Democrats were able to at least stand up for the people of Arizona in the those dark hours offering amendments, and charting out a better vision for how to move our state forward together. We sought to restore funding for transplant victims, for all levels of education, for transportation, for health care, and for jobs. All our amendments were paid for by closing just a few of the hundreds of corporate tax loopholes that Republicans have ignored.
The amendments went down on party-line votes, but we did claim a victory by lengthening the debate so that the media had time to wake up and return to cover the final votes -- thus forcing a wee bit of transparency into the chamber as the sun rose.
We felt a small bit of hope at one point when Rep. John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction) rose to say that he actually supported an amendment by Anna Tovar (D-Tolleson) to restore transplant funding and pay for it entirely in private funds. He praised our arguments from the entire evening and our public service, and the articulate way in which we stood up for Arizonans. Our tired spirits as Democrats were lifted by the vision of a Republican actually saying nice things about us and acknowledging our hard work in opposition.
Then he yelled out "April Fools!" and went on to trash everything we stood for. The harshly partisan and mean-spirited nature of the process and majority rhetoric on the floor was revealed once again in a particularly nasty way. Needless to say, not many of us Democrats were laughing.
And not many Arizonans will be laughing either, as the effects of these cuts are revealed in myriad hurtful ways in the upcoming years.
AND FINALLY TONIGHT -- If you would like to talk with your District 28 State Representative Team about the budget or any other legislative matter, Bruce Wheeler and I would love you to come to our Town Hall this Saturday, April 9, at Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church, in the McBride Hall, 2331 E. Adams Street, just west of Tucson Blvd, and just south of Elm. We will be there to respond to your concerns and accept your hugs from 3-5pm. Hope to see you there!
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Representative.
Arizona State Representative, District 28
Assistant Minority Leader
Ranking Member, Transportation Committee
Ways & Means Committee
Capitol office: 602-926-3022
Tucson office: 520-398-6000
Official email: sfarley at azleg.gov
Paid for by Friends O' Farley