We are only two weeks away from the traditional end of session on the 100th day, but there's still no sign of a budget, and from what I hear inside the Republican caucus, no progress towards one.
Timelines are hard to predict in this molasses-slow legislating environment. Bills are still dribbling slowly through the process, including my SB1162 to allow small businesses to file sales tax returns less often and use those revenues as short-term cash-flow, without costing the state a dime. It passed through House Committee of the Whole last Thursday, and awaits a Third Reading before it comes back over for a final passage in the Senate.
My other live bill, SB1206 -- to help public safety by standardizing and clarifying future special license plates--got written up in USA Today, complete with a graphic I created to show what a sample new design would look like compared with the present nearly unreadable version. The bill is currently still awaiting action in House Rules, where the chair tells me I shouldn't worry because "there is plenty of time."
Indeed there is plenty of time because there is still no sign of a vote on the Governor's plan for Medicaid restoration. The latest objection I have heard from Republican legislative leaders is a claim that the proposal--which gives authority to the director of AHCCCS to set fees for a hospital assessment to use as state matching funds--would require a 2/3 majority for approval due to the provisions of Proposition 108, which requires a supermajority vote for anything increasing revenues to the state.
However, Prop 108 specifically says that exemptions from the 2/3 majority requirement include: "Fees and assessments that are authorized by statute, but are not prescribed by formula, amount or limit, and are set by a state officer or agency."
That is clearly the case here. There are 83 precedents for state agencies and officers enacting authorized fees without a 2/3 majority vote of the Legislature, most recently the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality--neither of which get a dime from the general fund, but are self-supporting based on fees they collect from the industries they oversee. As a separate issue, that is a problem to me since it creates a too-cozy relationship between the regulators and the regulated, but in this context, it is a clear precedent demonstrating that the Governor's plan legally requires a simple majority vote.
Once that argument is won, my hope is that Republican leaders allow a vote even with a majority of members in their own caucus in opposition. That way, they can make their right-wing tea-partiers happy, while those moderates in the caucus can do what is right for Arizona along with Democrats. As an added bonus, they can survive the next election when Republican women and independents (who strongly support the Governor's plan in polling) vote to boot out all those legislators who would choose ideology over good public policy.
Speaking of the power of ideology around here, Judy Burges (R-Skull Valley) will be holding yet another hearing on the purported UN-led communist conspiracy set out in the 1992 Rio Declaration on environmental sustainability known as Agenda 21, this Thursday from 9am-noon in Senate Hearing Room 3. The word has spread throughout Tea Party media, but all members of the public can attend -- I hear the Sierra Club will also have a substantial presence in their effort to bring common sense to the discussion.
You'll remember that Sen. Burges is the sponsor of SB1403 which would forbid any law in this state that would follow any of the wording of this UN declaration. Her bill would effectively ban anti-poverty programs, public hearings on environmental regulations, the inclusion of women in environmental management, the ability of states to control our own resources, the recognition of tribal nations, and the concept that human beings are the center of concern for sustainable development. Kinda problematic.
So why do Sen. Burges and her Tea Party followers want to do this? Their motivation appears to spring from all-too-familiar human impulses, exploited often in the past by those wanting to motivate large groups of people to do their bidding: Fear of change, fear of those different from us, and a sense of victimization by shadowy alliances of powerful people. It's ironic that powerful shadowy organizations like Fox News, the Koch brothers, ALEC, and corporate anti-regulatory interests are the ones actually feeding these folks the conspiracy talking points.
To get a flavor for the broad scope of their thinking, listen to these quotes from anti-Agenda 21 groups who will be sharing their thoughts on Thursday:
- "UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development is the action plan implemented worldwide to inventory and control all land, all water, all minerals, all plants, all animals, all construction, all means of production, all energy, all education, all information, and all human beings in the world. INVENTORY AND CONTROL."
- "Moreover, people should be rounded up off the land and packed into human settlements, or islands of human habitation, close to employment centers and transportation. Whole towns need to be demolished and rebuilt in the image of sustainable development. Bike groups are being used as the 'shock troops' for this plan."
- "This plan is a whole life plan. It involves the educational system, the energy market, the transportation system, the governmental system, the health care system, food production, and more. The plan is to restrict your choices, limit your funds, narrow your freedoms, and take away your voice."
- Elements of the conspiracy include: The United States Green Building Council, the American Planning Association, Light Rail, Common Core curriculum for our schools, New Urbanism, planning and zoning, downtown revitalization efforts, non-conservative political leaders, income taxes, energy efficiency programs, gun restrictions, illegal immigration, the Federal Reserve, paper money, chemtrail spraying from jet planes, climate change scientists, walkable communities, public transit, college readiness programs, and clean air and clean water laws.
Good thing the UN script for this purported conspiracy is widely available as the Rio Declaration of 1992, and was signed by noted Communist President George H. W. Bush. You can read all 27 principles here. Actually reading the document--while appreciating the historic irrelevance of most UN declarations--should defuse the fears of most people, which is why it's hard to find the document on most of the conspiracy sites.
This would all be an amusing sideshow if it weren't for the power these folks hold over the legislative majority. While SB1403 appears to be going nowhere, similarly-motivated SB1439 to make any form of gold or silver legal tender (returning the basis of our economy to the early 19th-century) is headed soon to the Governor's desk. Rank and file Republican activists have approved resolutions all over the state condemning the Governor and rejecting her effort to restore Medicaid coverage, and they are placing immense pressure on Republican legislators to do the same, even though it would cost $300 million more per year to not cover those folks.
This is a time for us to have the courage to rise above fear, threats, and conspiracy theories and do what is right for all of our constituents, not just the loud and fearful ones. At some point, we have to govern, not just run for re-election. I believe that my Republican colleagues are capable of that kind of courage, and I retain the hope that we will pass the Medicaid restoration soon, get the budget moved out, and Sine Die so we can all go home and regain our sense of reality once again.
Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley