It's a short week in the Capitol due to our break for the MLK holiday, but there's plenty going on already.
But first, a Farley Pledge Break:
It's that time again! If you'd like me to continue serving you in the Senate, I need to get re-elected. In order to get re-elected, I need two things from you tonight: Signatures and funding.
1) Signatures: If you live in District 9, and you like the representation I have been providing you, you can now sign my nominating petition online by clicking on this link. It's really easy and will take no more than 30 seconds of your time, so please click and sign today, and urge your friends to do the same. It costs you nothing! Thank you!
2) Funding: I need to raise money and sign up volunteers. I won't be asking you to help me with your feet until April-ish, but I could use your help now to contribute funds to my campaign. The more you can give now, the less I will have to bother you later!
My opponents (whoever they may be) may get more deep pockets in their corner, but I feel confident I can match them stride for stride with your passion for good governance on my side. Please help me out in any way you can, starting today. Thank you!
On to this week's news:
--> K-12 schools inflationary funding: Late last year, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of school districts in the Cave Creek Unified School District v Ducey case, and reinstated the inflationary funding mandated by Prop 301 to school districts across the state. That funding had been eliminated by the legislative majority for several years while they instead decided to use the money to pay for corporate tax giveaways.
Now the plaintiffs (represented by Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest) are asking not just for this year's funding, but also the repayment of the funding for years when our schools were entitled to those inflationary adjustments but were not paid. They are asking for an additional $1.25 billion over the next five years -- something our schools desperately need, given the more than $3 billion in cuts to education over the last five years.
If the court rules in their favor on this request (which is highly possible) than the budget as proposed by the Governor will be thrown into disarray. But there is an easy solution.
Instead of adequately funding education, the Governor has decided in her budget to hoard a cash balance estimated to be more than $1.4 billion by the end of FY15. It would be simple to invest some of that money in our kids' education, satisfy the court order, and reap the benefits when our schools graduate students who are better prepared to thrive in the 21st century global economy.
This is especially important given that the state is not allowed to keep more than $440 million in a cash surplus at any given time -- a requirement instituted by the agreement into which we entered when we mortgaged our state Capitol, lottery funds, and other state buildings during the fiscal crisis. If we hold more money than that, we are limited on the amount of interest we can earn, or we have to pay back the debt early. Given the multiplicity of needs we face, it seems like a particularly bad idea to sit on huge amounts of excess cash right now, especially since we will be punished for it.
Where else is the governor proposing to not spend our money in the next fiscal year? Read on…
--> The governor's budget was released last Friday, and while there are a few good points, was on the whole pretty disappointing. It certainly did not look like a legacy budget.
• Despite hard-won legislative consensus on restoring HURF gas tax funds to our transportation system, she continues to divert $120 million away from our roads this year.
• Despite widespread understanding that a large factor in the dramatic increase in neglected children reported to CPS is the majority's prior elimination of child care subsidies, those are not restored.
• The arts and parks funding I obtained last year paid for by the interest off the Rainy Day Fund is eliminated, not increased as had been requested.
• UofA gets flat funding while ASU and NAU get increases. I have heard second-hand that even ASU President Michael Crow responded "UofA got screwed."
• A small amount of transportation money is taken from a revolving fund available to all (including Maricopa and Pima), and becomes restricted to rural counties in the firm of loans.
• Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) funds are increased to rural community colleges but not to Pima and Maricopa community colleges.
The good news is that there is strong bipartisan support for including these and other omissions in the final budget, so I retain hope that the governor is open to negotiation, especially since she actually proposes socking away another $50 million to the rainy day fund this year, and there are huge projected surpluses in each if the next five years. The money is available and we should invest it in Arizona's needs now, so our economy and our people can thrive in the coming decades.
--> Details on the governor's CPS proposal: She announced some good changes to Child Protective Services, including significant funding to hire new CPS caseworkers, overhaul their database, and increase investigation rates to 100% (something that should have been the case from the beginning).
However, the big-ticket item is the cost -- $25 million -- to turn the department into its own agency. It is as yet unclear what is included in that $25 million -- I have heard talk that the figure was pulled out of thin air, and that it only covers the cost of moving the new agency into a new building. If that is the case, it appears to me that it would be wiser to keep CPS where it is, and instead spend that money on the childcare subsidies that most interested observers believe would be the most effective investment in keeping kids safe into the future.
Nearly the entire increase in children in the system are due to neglect, not abuse, and that often happens when parents are given the choice between either staying home to take care of their kids with no money for food or shelter, or going to work to earn money but leaving the kids at home alone. The entire childcare subsidy waitlist could be cleared with less than half the money set aside just to move CPS to a new building.
CPS can be restructured in place, ousting current management. Then the money for the move can be spent actually keeping kids safe. I know from conversations at the Capitol today that there is bipartisan legislative support to do just that. Hopefully the governor will be persuadable.
--> Sign up for the new Request to Speak system where you can register your opinions online to the Legislature regarding bills, and have your opinion read by legislators in the committees where the bills are being heard. I served this past year on the interim committee that helped to develop the software, and I think they have done a pretty good job of increasing your access to the process.
The new system will be accessible from your browser wherever you may be in the world, but you have to come and visit the Capitol to sign up the first time. So please grab your friends, hop on I-10, sign up in the lobby, and stop by my office to say "Hi" while you are at it. (I love to spend time with my constituents who go to the trouble to come up here!) To read more about the new system, please go to this link.
--> Three more bills I have filed: I now have 11 bills in the hopper so far, and plan to file my remaining 8 bills by next Monday. Here is a brief rundown of the numbers they have been assigned so you can follow their progress at azleg.gov as they move forward (or don't).
SB1134 sales tax; reduced reporting requirements (This increases cash-flow for small businesses that collect sales taxes without reducing state revenues)
SB1146 tax credit; accounting services (This is a tax credit for self-employed people and sole proprietors to help them pay for better accounting services so they can get all the deductions to which they are entitled. There have been plenty of tax cuts for big companies -- it's about time we gave the smallest of entrepreneurs a break. That's where future big employers come from.)
SB1147 text messaging while driving; prohibition (this year's version of my eight-years-running efforts to ban driving while texting (or sending or receiving any other written messages on a handheld electronic device) counts both Appropriations Chairmen (Rep. Kavanagh, and Sen. Shooter) and Senate Majority Leader McComish as cosponsors.)
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley