The Farley Report from Phoenix #169: 2-5-13

First off tonight, I want to invite you to our first monthly District 9 Town Hall in Tucson this Saturday afternoon, featuring your entire District 9 bipartisan team: Victoria Steele and Ethan Orr in the House, and me in the Senate. We will share with you our thoughts on the first few weeks and where they may lead, and take your questions and comments. Think "Farley Report Live," from three hometown legislators instead of just one -- it promises to be a great discussion.

Join us at the La Paloma Urgent Care Community Room, 4001 E. Sunrise Drive just west of Swan starting at 4:30pm and ending around 5:30pm, although we will be happy to stay later to continue the conversation if you are willing. I hope to see you there!

There will be much to talk about because here at the Capitol, session momentum continues to build. Yesterday was the deadline for filing Senate bills -- the final count was 505 proposed laws which now have to clear multiple committees and floor action in order to start the process all over again in the House.  

One of my bills cleared its first hurdle this afternoon and passed the Transportation Committee. SB1327 sets up a 20-member task force of one Senator, one Representative, and 18 members of the public from diverse backgrounds who are tasked with taking public input and recommending new and sustainable transportation funding sources to replace the current gas tax. ADOT is then given the authority to develop and operate pilot programs to test these alternative sources.

Why do we need this bill? Because our gas tax is no longer generating what we need to maintain our transportation system. Like the brick-and-mortar retail sales tax which now needs to add internet sales to sustain itself, the gas tax worked great in the 20th century, but we need new solutions for the way we live in the 21st. 

Our state tax of a flat 18 cents per gallon sold has not increased since 1990. Since that time, inflation has driven costs up dramatically while -- spurred by high gas prices that will not be going down anytime soon -- people have cut way back on their usage of gasoline. Now we are seeing an increasing number of drivers buying vehicles like the Leaf that do not use gasoline at all, and therefore do not pay anything at the pump toward the upkeep of the roads they use. 

Our parents and grandparents sacrificed to build and bequeath us the best transportation system in world history. We must not be the generation that allows that system to crumble because we are not creative enough to figure out how to pay for its maintenance under today's changed circumstances. 

This is a national problem as well. Our federal gas taxes face the same eroding base, and the national Highway Trust Fund will be insolvent in less than two years. We must step up here in Arizona and show that it is possible for us to put aside partisan bickering and meet our responsibilities. If we do, we can help lead the nation toward fiscal health. 

I am grateful for the bipartisan support this bill has received so far. I have two more committees to clear, so there is much work yet to do. More on this soon!

For my feature on bills I have introduced this session, this week I will feature three of my good-government bills.

You may remember my ALEC Accountability Act from last session that was featured on the Bill Moyers PBS show in September. It basically forces public disclosure of gifts from organizations like ALEC who fly legislators to conferences to sell them on model legislation, and forces these organizations to register as lobbyists and submit to the requisite regulations. I won't repeat my explanation of the provisions here, since I have talked about it often -- you can view the Moyers piece here for background -- but I wanted to let you know that this year's version is SB1219. Ironically, it is also acting as model legislation for other states -- my language has now also been introduced by legislators in Wisconsin, New York, and New Hampshire, among others.

This year I have found a way to go after the Citizens United decision that unleashed billions of dollars in "dark money" onto the political scene -- anonymous donations funding PACs, SuperPACs, and independent expenditure (IE) committees on all sides of the political spectrum. I strongly believe that the future of our democracy depends on the full disclosure of exactly who is seeking to manipulate our vote, whether they be right-leaning corporations or left-leaning unions. And several of my colleagues in the Senate on the other side of the aisle agree with me on this.

My bill SB1265, is a relatively simple solution to the problem that became clear last year when the California Fair Political Practices Commission forced an Arizona IE to reveal its funders, and they simply revealed that their major funder was another shadowy IE. My language proposes that a political entity that receives a donation and spends the money in Arizona political campaigns will be guilty of a class 6 felony if the entity does not disclose the original person who gave the money and every other person in the chain. A political group that receives a contribution from another group will therefore face a choice to avoid criminal charges: 1) demand full disclosure of the original sources of the money, or 2) refuse the contribution in the first place. 

If choice 1 is made, the public gets to know who is behind the spending and draw our own conclusions. If choice 2 is made, the power of dark money will dramatically dwindle as fewer political organizations accept such untraceable donations. Either outcome is a victory for voters.

You can read a good story on the bill from the Capitol Times via Cronkite News here.

I have high hopes that the bill will be heard in Michele Reagan's Elections Committee -- she has told me she shares my goals. I will let you know how this turns out. 

Another bill that is important to me, but realistically has less chances of being heard, is my SB1299. It sets out in bill form, a key economic development principle that I believe we have forgotten as a legislature: Jobs come from multiple sources, not just generalized corporate tax cuts, and perhaps the most important is a high-quality public education system.

This legislative majority has done a great job at improving the tax climate for business. They've not done such a great job at improving our schools. It's time to correct that. When it comes to attracting and retaining high-wage businesses, it doesn't matter how low your taxes are if your schools can't graduate the future employees these businesses need and the future entrepreneurs who drive the economy.

SB1299 suspends three recently-approved major corporate tax cuts (which are not specifically tied to job creation) in order to pay for improving our schools. Once our public schools reach certain achievement goals, those tax cuts can go back into place. 

Specifically, the suspended cuts are the corporate income tax cut, the long-term capital gains tax cut, and a further reduction in corporate property taxes. None of these directly create any jobs -- the bill maintains the tax cuts that do directly create jobs (like the research and development credit). In order for the suspended cuts to go back into place, these are the three goals that must be met: 

1) 94% or more of third-graders read at third-grade level. Currently only 75% are there.

2) The high school graduation rate is 93%. Currently only 79% graduate. 

3) General fund expenditures for K-12 education are at or above the national median.

It is important to note that goals 1 and 2 are straight from the Governor's Arizona Ready Education Council goals for the state -- they are not plucked out of thin air. If we do not act to improve our schools now, our kids' and our economy's future will not be able to compete in the global economy. Period. And most of our business leaders agree on this point. 

I am hoping my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree. 

Finally tonight, I want to let you know that Simon and Schuster published today an inspiring and gripping memoir from my dear friend and former campaign manager Daniel Hernandez called They Call Me A Hero. It is now available to buy at local bookstores or online. Daniel not only shares his story of how he came to Gabby's aid on January 8, he shares intimate details of his life growing up in Tucson's southside and how he overcame much adversity to become a humble role model of community service for so many, including President Obama. Here is the book's page at the Amazon website, and I strongly recommend it to you. 

Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator. 

Steve

Steve Farley

Senator, District 9, Tucson

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Arizona State Senator Steve Farley
Arizona State Senator Steve Farley