This is the last week of committee hearings so this place is slammed! Yesterday my Government & Environment committee heard 14 bills, and that committee meets again on Thursday to hear another 19. Transportation hears 7 today, and Finance hears 22 tomorrow. That's 62 bills in one week in committees alone. So whaddaya know -- this is the week that Senate President Biggs chose to throw his proposed budget on the floor for a final vote on Thursday. Chaos reigns, and I will be your tour guide after the 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 to get the word out to voters on why I should be re-elected. 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 (given the new maximum contribution of $4,000 per person!), 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 the news:
--> Not last year's budget: President Biggs surprised us all by unveiling his budget bills last night, pushing them through Appropriations Committee today, and aiming for a Thursday vote out of the Senate and over to the House. The path in the House is pretty bleak, however, considering that not only was Speaker Tobin not consulted, the bills are being rushed through this week while Tobin is out of state. I don't think this will improve the notoriously chilly relationship between the Speaker and the President.
Late this afternoon I heard that Tobin's team are preparing their own very different budget bills and will late-introduce them tomorrow for a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Monday, with a plan to vote them out to the Senate next week. At that point, the real talks will likely begin, or we may end up with a budget hashed out in conference committee which would essentially be a budget worked out in secret.
Alternately if the Senate package gets to the Governor, things may not fare much better. Her spokesman this morning stated to the press, "Gov. Brewer does not support this proposal and it is far off from what the governor will accept." But don't expect the Governor to team up just yet with a bipartisan coalition (at least in the Senate) this year -- two of the Republican members of that coalition (Majority Leader McComish and Majority Whip Driggs) have already stated publicly that they support Biggs' budget as is.
I spent last night reading the bills and some time today comparing Biggs' proposals to the Governor's budget, and here are some conclusions:
-> Biggs assumes revenues will be $175 million less than the Governor projects, meaning much less room for spending. Considering the conservative financial projections last year undershot revenues by $600 million (so far), conservative financial projections have not proven themselves to be particularly accurate.
-> The University of Arizona gets screwed. We are the only university that gets no discretionary funding, and President Hart's request for $15 million in biomedical research investment is completely ignored. There are also no building renewal funds at all in Biggs' proposal for fixing campus buildings that are in some cases at risk of falling apart.
-> K-12 public education in the Biggs budget also gets no building renewal funds.
-> Unlike the Governor, Biggs provides no funding for the K-12 Common Core academic standards assessment for high school students next year, no professional development for teachers in these standards, no instructional materials for these standards, and no IT connectivity for these standards, thus providing no accountability for our schools' performance and leaving our kids unprepared to compete in the global economy.
-> The Governor asked for $81 million in increased spending on child protective services; Biggs slashes that request by more than half and cuts the number of new caseworkers in half. Neither proposal provides the $15 million to eliminate the childcare subsidy waiting list -- the one move that could immediately reduce the increasing number of child neglect cases in our state.
-> There are a couple of surprising good things in the Biggs budget. First, the HURF shift of $120 million a year from roads to DPS is slightly adjusted to return $30 million to the cities and counties for road maintenance, but most transportation advocates (including me and Speaker Tobin) have been calling for the whole $120 million to be returned to its rightful place keeping our transportation system in working order. Second, the budget appropriates $1 million from the interest off the Rainy Day fund to the Arts Commission for direct grants to arts organizations all over the state. This is encouraging because it demonstrates that even a very conservative budget recognizes the value to our economy and culture of investing in the arts, the most entrepreneurial sector of our economy.
Looking at the entire picture, those small positives do not outweigh the large negatives. Especially considering the poor reception given this package by the Governor and the Speaker, I expect the details to change drastically once it is voted out of the Senate on what will likely be a sadly unnecessary party-line vote.
--> Predatory Lending attempts a comeback: Arizonans are still struggling with the effects of the recession on their family budgets. Into the fray comes Rep. TJ Shope's HB2526, which would allow small consumer loans as large as $3000 to carry an annual interest rate of up to 36% plus a 5% origination fee of up to $150, with no underwriting standards to establish ability to repay. This bill would put our blessing on the practice of locking folks into a downward spiral of poverty for the sake of increased profits for predatory lenders. That's immoral, unethical, and just plain wrong.
I will be leading efforts to kill this bill and speaking out tomorrow at a press conference at the Capitol against it. Later in the afternoon, we will hear the bill in Senate Finance Committee, and I have high hopes we can stop its progress then and there. Arizonans have made clear time and again that predatory lending is not welcome in our state, and I believe even this legislature has the capacity to honor our constituents' wishes in this case.
--> The Senate is the killin' floor: We're getting pretty good at killing bad bills here in the Senate. Yesterday afternoon one was killed on reconsideration, meaning it can't come back: Chester Crandell's SCR1003 that would have forced back on the ballot every citizen initiative that has passed since 1998. We also killed two bills that would have banned academic standards in AZ public schools (Judy Burges' SB1395 and David Farnsworth's SB1396), and two others that would have banned school districts from allowing voluntary teacher union dues to be deducted from union member teacher paychecks (Gail Griffin's SB1355 and Crandell's SB1094). And we killed an effort (SB1389) to divert money from the voter approved medical marijuana fund to instead advertise about the dangers of marijuana.
I am hoping this means that -- on non-budget bills at least -- the age of moderation has arrived in the Senate, at least on certain topics. I'll do what I can to keep that spirit moving!
--> Farley bills move onward in House: Last Thursday morning, on what would have been my mom's 80th birthday, my SB1032 to protect public safety by standardizing the design of special license plates passed House Transportation Committee unanimously, and is now ready for House Rules. My SB1134 to reduce reporting burdens and increase cash flow for small businesses at no cost to the state just passed through both Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House today and is now ready for a final vote on the floor -- the last stop before the Governor's desk!
--> Streetcar Celebration next Tuesday: On a non-legislative note, please support downtown merchants, see the Modern Streetcar up close, and have a great time with cool entertainment and ganga deals by coming to Congress Street from 5-8pm next Tuesday, March 25 for the latest Streetcar Celebration: Destination Downtown event, sponsored by Friends of the Tucson Streetcar. For more info, here's a great article on the event.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley