It's a calm week in the Senate -- a calm before the storm.
Next week is the last week for bills to be heard in committee, so the agendas will be long in both House and Senate, as members (including me) scramble to keep bills alive and on schedule. My special license plate standardized design bill SB1206 will be heard this Thursday in House Transportation, and my small-business paperwork reduction/cashflow increase bill SB1162 will be heard next Monday in House Ways & Means, so my work is on track.
Given the crush of bills that are still coming over from one chamber to the next, we will be working well into the night next week. The following week we will push them along through the floor in Committees of the Whole and Third Reads. Crazy things may happen at a much faster pace at that time, but then we'll be heading into a sudden pause of unknown duration while a few major issues take center stage: the budget (B), sales tax simplification (STS), and Medicaid restoration (MR).
What happens immediately before and during that pause that is anyone's guess, depending on strategic decisions by the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker. There are a number of options, but I think the most likely is a long pause, during which negotiations take place among Republicans on B, STS, and MR. After these are passed, the bill dam will break and the Governor will be able to sign them all and we'll adjourn Sine Die.
If the bills go to her desk too early, that removes the leverage of the President and Speaker to twist members' arms more effectively for votes on B, STS, and MR. Additionally, there is a risk that the Governor may veto all bills that hit her desk before an agreement is reached on her key policies.
Whatever the journey, I will be up here reporting it all to you as it happens.
The budget has been proceeding very slowly, with no action in public, and only a few small meetings amongst Republicans. From what I hear, nothing of substance has been decided, and we are still nowhere near a majority budget proposal.
The other two big topics are starting to heat up, however.
Today, the Governor revealed the draft bill for Medicaid restoration so we can all see the language. There are no surprises there, just straightforward language, refreshingly brief, calling for an assessment on hospitals to be determined by the AHCCCS Director that will be used to supplement 2000's voter-approved Prop 204 Protection Account and the Tobacco Litigation Fund to restore medical coverage to all those under 133% of the federal poverty line. There is a provision that the coverage and assessment will be cancelled if a future federal government reduces the federal matching funds below 80%. Considering the current percentage on offer is 85-100% (depending on the population covered), that is unlikely to happen.
This should be a slam-dunk deal, regardless of politics. Arizona stands to gain more than $8 billion into our economy over the next four years, hundreds of thousands of people will have their coverage restored (obeying voters' will from 2000's Prop 204 that won with 63% of the vote), our hospitals will be brought back from the brink, and the money comes from the hospitals themselves -- who have publicly stated that they will not pass along the costs of their assessments to consumers or insurers. Tens of thousands of jobs will be created in all economic sectors.
It would actually cost us $300 million MORE per year NOT to cover these people and leave our health care system at risk of collapse from the costs of unreimbursed care. That $300 million annually would be nothing but a ransom paid to the far right wing who believe we must be willing to destroy our economy rather than claim our fair share from a federal government they oppose.
Sadly, that far right wing is making headway. Arizona's branch of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is a national dark-money group founded by the oil billionaire Koch Brothers which aims to slash government spending so that the rich can avoid paying taxes. Like ALEC and the Goldwater Institute, AFP does not reveal the sources of their funding, despite their clear involvement in lobbying and politics.
Last Friday Arizona Illustrated taped a debate featuring the AZ director of AFP along with Dr. Matt Heinz, economist Dave Wells, and me. It will air at 6:30pm this Friday, or you can watch after that date and time on their website here. Trust me, you will greatly enjoy this exchange!
AFP has been making the rounds to Republican party activists all over the state, playing up conspiracy-theory-laden fears of everything from urban planning to light rail to common-core curriculum standards in our schools. They have successfully convinced the Maricopa and Pima County Republican Parties to approve resolutions condemning Governor Brewer and calling for a rejection of the Medicaid restoration -- with no alternative proposed. And those folks are making Republican legislators very nervous.
If you are a Republican, or have Republican friends and family who stand with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and nearly all the other business leaders across the state in supporting the Governor on Medicaid, please contact Republican legislators and tell them how important this is to you and to the Arizona economy, emphasize that this vote represents common-sense conservative values of good government and job creation, and reassure them that you will support them next election. You can find their contact information on the legislative website here. This is one of the most important acts of advocacy you will ever do.
Regarding the sales tax simplification effort, the Governor has offered a compromise to move the bill along. You'll recall that we stand to lose more than $700 million a year in online sales taxes in Arizona if we do not centralize and simplify our sales tax collection system this session. The League of Cities and Towns has been concerned with the effects of one aspect of this proposal that would collect construction contracting sales taxes not on the final product, but on the building materials. The compromise would allow cities to continue collection on the final product of building construction, so that cities are held harmless by any changes in the amount collected.
The League is currently running the numbers on this, and it is my hope that it works for them, since the online sales tax issue is too important to let slip away -- that money alone could replace almost entirely the education sales tax that will expire in May so that our schools can maintain funding. For our kids' sake, we have to work this out, and I am helping to play a key role to make that happen.
Next week -- a report from the storm!
Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley