The legislative session is heating up as committees start to churn away on bills this week. I have now filed all but two of my 25 bills into the system. You can get a preview by visiting my legislative website and clicking on the bill numbers with a P* (with an asterisk) after them.
This afternoon we had our first Transportation Committee hearing which featured some sobering presentations on just how dire our transportation funding picture is right now. Our gas taxes have now dwindled to 1994 levels in constant dollars, which are worth even less when accounting for inflation. The proposed budget on the table continues last year's shift of more than $100 million of what's left away from ADOT, county, and city transportation departments into funding areas not related to infrastructure. I'll talk with you about my solutions to some of these problems next week.
One big policy battle brewing up here is the Governor's effort to simplify our over-the-top-complicated Transaction Privilege Tax system, which some simply call the sales tax.
If you run a retail or contracting business that collects TPT, as I have for the last 22 years, you know how baroque the regulations have become, particularly if you operate in more than one county or municipality.
Businesses have to file with the state and with each county and city in which they make a sale, and follow the many different rules and exemptions and requirements and rates in each place, usually monthly. This results in lots of extra time and money spent on accounting, legal advice, and reporting, rather than on the central job of making money. That hurts small businesses and our overall economy.
Centralized TPT collection makes it easy to do business and easy to remit your taxes to one place with one set of rules and one report. That's why only 3 other states do it our way.
It is vitally important for us to join the 46 states that have already simplified their TPT for another huge reason: We Arizonans are currently missing out on approximately $700 million each year that we should be collecting in online retail sales taxes. Congress is finally looking to act on allowing states move into the 21st-century retail economy to collect this tax, but in order to do so, we will need to first simplify and centralize our TPT system. And we must do it now in order to not miss out on this revenue source next year.
Another benefit to collecting the online sales tax is that it levels the playing field for our Arizona brick-and-mortar retail businesses who will no longer be held at a nearly 10% price disadvantage to the tax-free internet retailers. More money will stay here at home, going to work for us all.
I have told the Governor I am on board with these efforts and am working with her staff to help get this good-government bill through the Legislature. I have high hopes that we can modernize our revenue structure in this way this session.
Last week I introduced two animal cruelty bills I wanted to share with you. Stopping animal abuse is not just important for those of us who care deeply for the welfare of animals, it also stops human violence, since many studies conclusively prove the connection between abuse of animals and later abuse of humans. This is another small piece of the puzzle as we seek ways of reducing the possibility of future mass shootings.
SB1161 institutes a public animal abuser registry similar to a sex offender registry for those convicted of felony animal cruelty so that kennels and other places that adopt out animals can make sure the prospective owner is a safe guardian. Members of the public will be able to see who is in their neighborhood, too, so they can avoid walking the dog in the vicinity of the abuser's home, and perhaps keep their kids away as well. Startup costs will be paid for by donations from the Animal Legal Defense Fund. This has strong bipartisan and law enforcement support, including the backing of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
SB1167 adds dogfighting, cockfighting, and other animal fighting to the list of crimes to which the RICO racketeering statues can be applied, allowing prosecutors to seize not just the animals, but also all property belonging to those convicting of those crimes. This is another strong deterrent that has the effect of taking away the resources of these fighting rings who otherwise take their money and move their operations into other communities.
On a final note, you may be interested in knowing that this year's version of my bill banning driving while texting (SB1218), which has been strongly opposed by Senator Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) every year since I first introduced it in 2007, now has the distinction of being assigned to three committees in the Senate, assuring its early demise. In order to move to the floor, it would have to be heard and passed in all three committees in order of assignment, and we only have three more weeks to hear Senate bills in the Senate. I can't imagine its fate has anything to do with the fact that Senate President Andy Biggs is now the one deciding on committee assignments.
Not all is lost. Several of my bills have been generously assigned by President Biggs to single committees with friendly chairs, so there is hope for some of my agenda at least. We Democrats always remain optimistic. As you know, I will keep you posted!
Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley