Happy New Year to you all. Yesterday was opening day at the Capitol, where I was sworn in by Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch as your Senator for Tucson's District 9. I am so grateful for all of your support that made it possible for me to serve you.
I am also grateful to Governor Brewer for making this a Happy New Session by announcing in her State of the State speech yesterday that she was going to fight for full expansion of AHCCCS coverage to everyone earning less than 133% of the poverty line. The Governor showed true leadership and gutsy pragmatism in being willing to buck many members of her own party to do what is right for all Arizonans regardless of party.
Loyal Farley Report readers know that I and other Democrats have had our disagreements with Gov. Brewer over the years, and I'm sure we will again in the future. But this decision on her part gives me tremendous hope that on core issues, we can work together in a bipartisan way to move our state forward.
This one policy decision holds the promise of healing families in poverty, healing our health care system, and healing our economy while creating thousands of new jobs. All we have to do is put up $500 million over four years and receive $20 BILLION in matching funds from the federal government in return.
That's money that goes through our hospitals, doctors, nurses, labs, and scientists, into our local shops and restaurants and housing. That's money that would go to our competitors in California, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico if we turned it down. If the Governor is able to convince the Legislative majority to go along, that money will power us out of this all-too-long recession like nothing else has.
I've been waiting a long time to say this -- the Governor made me proud to be an Arizonan again. There is a long road to enact this reform, but I now have restored faith that we can do great things together.
Meanwhile in the Capitol halls, we legislators are getting busy developing our bill ideas into drafts and shopping them around to our colleagues. I have 23 bills I am working on right now -- I will let you know about some of them next week, as session grinds on into high gear. So far, the atmosphere has been less combative than in recent years, and I hope that translates into support for good bipartisan policies.
I did want to fill you in on a couple of items of interest beyond bills.
First, I know many of you are members of HealthCare Group (HCG), the state-managed health insurance plan for small businesses and (before they were removed from eligibility) sole proprietors -- people who have a very hard time finding an affordable plan, particularly if they have pre-existing conditions. I know how important HCG is because I was a member before I was elected to the Legislature.
I have been the Legislature's leading HCG advocate for years, so I am committed to helping the 15,000 remaining members in this year's transition. If you currently do not have health coverage, this is important for you, too. HCG will be ending this fall, so members and other sole proprietors and small businesses will be able to take up coverage in the Affordable Care Act's Healthcare Exchange starting in October. Here's what we know so far:
Open enrollment in the Exchange will start in October. You will not be discriminated against if you have a pre-existing condition, and your condition will not be excluded from coverage.
You will be able to choose any plan offered in the Exchange, which will take the form of an Expedia-style or Kayak-style website where you type in your personal data and choose from a large number of health insurance plans which will offer up to five different tiers of coverages in apples-to-apples comparisons to you can choose what is right for you.
If you like, you will likely even get to choose the health insurance plan that state employees and legislators currently use, or possibly keep the same provider that currently services your HCG plan, although your coverages will likely be expanded and your premiums will likely be lower than HCG.
The goal of this transition is seamlessness and better coverage. We do not yet know all the answers on the exact steps of this journey, or what will happen precisely when, but if you are having problems, please email me and I will pass them along to my liaison at AHCCCS so that we can fix the issues. I will keep sharing information as I receive it.
Finally tonight, I want to share with you a bit about my visit to Portland, Oregon a couple of weeks ago. I visited all eight Tucson Modern Streetcars which are now on the assembly line at Oregon Ironworks/United Streetcar who are producing the first Made in the USA Streetcar in almost 100 years.
The factory is very impressive, and gives me great hope that we can bring heavy manufacturing back to the United States once again. I am proud that we in Tucson are playing a key part in making that happen. While a project this ambitious always encounters a few bugs along the way, those glitches have now been solved, and we are on our way to seeing our first streetcar delivered to Tucson by June of this year, with about one per month following thereafter until we get our eighth and final car delivered by March 2014, with paid ridership starting shortly thereafter.
The boost to Tucson's economy has been huge already -- the latest figures tell us more than $800 million has been invested within three blocks of a 4-mile route, and cranes are in the air everywhere on the corridor, representing thousands of new jobs for people from all over the Tucson metro area.
If you have a chance to visit Portland, you would do well to take their streetcar to the Pearl District, and the extension beyond to the eastside. You can look into Tucson's future -- a thriving economy, great new urban housing options for people of all incomes, bustling shops and restaurants, and a strong sense of community.
I have so much hope for our future in Tucson and across the state. We are finally on our way at so many levels!
Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
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