Welcome to the Farley Report's first monsoon edition of 2013. I hope your house has received more rain than mine, and I hope both our houses get a whole lot more over the next couple of months!
The Phoenix political world has slowed down considerably over the past month, with the exception of a flurry of bill signings after Sine Die. Due to my work in obtaining the passage of the Medicaid restoration and the sales tax simplification bills, I am now the proud owner of two Jan Brewer signing pens.
The odds in early January of that happening this session were pretty long, but that encapsulates the wonder of this session. Courage, hard work, compromise, and bipartisan strength on the part of many leaders in both the House and the Senate created unexpected positive outcomes for all Arizonans.
Already, arts organizations and our economy are benefitting across the state from the $1 million increase for the Arts Commission we were able to obtain in the budget, drawn from the interest earned by the Rainy Day fund, which otherwise would have remained dormant in an out-of-state investment bank account.
You can read two good Daily Star articles on local groups that received the funding, and on how I came up with the idea and convinced my colleagues.
While $700,000 of the money went to organizational support for existing groups, a large portion of the remainder will be distributed in an innovative and entertaining way, dreamt up by Arts Commission Executive Director Bob Booker and his deputy Jaime Dempsey -- "Art Tank."
Akin to the TV reality show "Shark Tank", artists and arts organizations will pitch project ideas to a panel of local business owners, legislators, venture capitalists, and arts professionals in front of a live audience, and hopefully a televised audience as well.
The winning pitches get funded, and if audience members like a pitch that didn't get funded, they can step up and write a check, too. This emphasizes the powerfully entrepreneurial nature of the arts, expands the funding pool for arts, and engages the whole community in the creative process. I will let you know when the Tucson edition is scheduled.
Another exciting development for Arizona's economy is the release by the Arizona Department of Transportation of the three preferred routes for the future Tucson-Phoenix passenger rail line. This is a significant milestone in the three-year preliminary engineering and environmental impact study which by year's end will be complete as it determines a single preferred route.
A recent ADOT study projects that -- even if we build out I-10 to 10 lanes -- by 2050 it will take nearly five-and-a-half hours to travel between Tucson and Phoenix, due to increasing truck freight and other congestion. We need alternatives, and we need to start moving now. The Green route on the ADOT plan is projected to get us between the two cities in just a bit over an hour, using current technology.
The really great news is that, with the completion of this study, there is a good chance that an international equity firm may be willing to step up and offer to build and operate the entire line with minimal taxpayer funding in exchange for the revenues from tickets over the first few decades of operation. I helped craft the public-private partnership legislation enacted a few years ago that could also make this outcome more likely and speedier than any government-only alternative.
We've been talking about this plan for years, and now it's getting real. To express your opinions about passenger rail in Arizona and which alternative you prefer, you can browse ADOT's rail website and send them an email with your thoughts.
We do have a ways to go to make our roads safer from texting drivers, however, as we are reminded by the Governors Highway Safety Association today who released their report on states and their efforts to combat distracted driving.
I was the first legislator in the U.S. to introduce a ban on driving while texting in January 2007. We are now the ONLY state in the entire country that not only refuses to ban texting while driving for any driver, we also refuse to collect data from accident reports on whether distracted driving was a factor in the accident.
This is shameful, endangers lives, and costs us all money from increased auto insurance premiums. I will continue to push for a ban on driving while texting, and during this intersession I will push ADOT to include distractions on DPS accident reports.
Finally I want to leave you with the farewell blog from one of my favorite people -- outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood -- who has done so much to save lives from distracted driving, to fund and build alternative transportation options like the Tucson Streetcar and passenger rail, and to work collaboratively with people of all perspectives to encourage better land use and a more sustainable future for our country and our economy.
You can read the whole blog entry here, and it is well worth reading. LaHood, a long-time Republican congressman before he took on the DOT top job, talks about how we can get out of the partisan gridlock that currently grips Washington, and I believe his vision is exactly what we need to do at all levels. He sums it up by saying:
"There is always going to be another issue and another debate. Our job, as political leaders, is to build the relationships that help us compromise and get things done."
This past session, I and many of my colleagues in the Legislature did just that. I have great hope that we can continue our positive action into the future. Our citizens deserve no less.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
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