I wish this was an April Fools joke, but sadly it's not. During budget debate this morning after refusing our amendments to eliminate the 6,600-child waitlist for childcare subsidies, invest in our universities and K-12 schools, and stop the diversion of gas tax funds to non-transportation uses, Senate President Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) defended his budget by stating on the floor,
"Government is raw power. Government does not have compassion or empathy."
I took him to task, passionately. That's not the government most Arizonans want, and not the government any of us deserve. More 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!
You can also walk door to door gathering signatures with many local and statewide Democratic candidates for office this Saturday from 10-noon in the Flowing Wells area at Edgebrooke Village Clubhouse, east of La Cholla just off Ruthrauff Road at Woodside Court. I hope to see you there!
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:
--> Budget journeys from the House back to the Senate: Last week the House wrestled with the Senate budget as a group of six of last year's House moderate Republicans held out for additional investment in our universities, CPS reform, childcare subsidies, JTED funding restoration, additional AHCCCS coverage for things like insulin pumps and dental services for the developmentally disabled, and funding for public school districts that have started their own charter schools in order to get the extra money that comes to charter schools. By Thursday Speaker Tobin had picked off all but one of those Republicans with small concessions in the budget, and the amended -- but still flawed -- package passed with all Democrats and only one Republican (Ethan Orr, R-Tucson) against.
However, the Speaker had not talked with another important player, Senate President Biggs. He was not pleased with the additional $87 million (just 0.7% of the overall budget) of increased spending added in the House, and yesterday in Senate Appropriations Committee, he directed Chester Crandell to undo the House deal. Funding for existing charter schools started by school districts were cut in half, AHCCCS coverage for insulin pumps, developmentally disabled dental, podiatry, and orthotics were stripped, and language was added disallowing Child Protective Services from coming back for more money until after they had started up their new agency.
This morning, we debated the new budget on the floor, and more amendments were added to strip off more House provisions. Democrats proposed eliminating the childcare subsidy wait list of 6,600 kids. As I discussed last week, this is an investment that would immediately reduce the incidences of neglect that have been accounting for almost all of the increase in cases we have seen since those subsidies were cut several years ago. And I pointed out on the floor, it is an idea supported by conservatives like Newt Gingrich in the 1990s as part of the Contract with America welfare to work reforms. So it should have fine bipartisan support.
Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) showed us the crying mugshot of a homeless woman who just last week had her children taken away because she left them in her car with cracked-open windows while applying for a job because there was nowhere else to leave them. Now her kids are in the CPS system, a family is broken apart, kids' lives in danger, and we are paying much more for kids in the system than it would have cost to get them good childcare.
Senator Hobbs wasn't endorsing leaving kids in a car, but it was a demonstration of how our legislative decisions are leaving no good options for parents who have to choose between working while leaving their kids at home alone, or staying at home with their kids and not being able to afford clothes or food. Childcare subsidies are a hand up, not a handout. Sadly the amendment went down on partisan lines.
I offered an amendment to include the $15 million for new research scientists and facilities asked for by President Hart for the UofA. UofA had refinanced some of their bonds and saved $5.5 million -- the Biggs budget generously returned only $1.25 million of that to the Wildcats, and ignored the other budget requests. I argued that investment in our universities is key to our ability to thrive in the 21st century. The UofA is our original economic engine. The amendment went down on party lines with Senator Steve Pierce (R-Prescott) in support.
I offered another amendment to completely stop the HURF shift -- the $120 million in gas taxes and vehicle license taxes that are statutorily required to be spent on transportation that have been diverted to fund DPS over the past several years. This is not a red or blue issue -- it has the strong support of some of the most prominent business organizations and cities and counties of all stripes all over the state. And it is especially crucial right now, given the impending bankruptcy of our Federal Highway Trust Fund in July -- the Feds give states back $32 billion a year in gas taxes, and that amount will be cut by more than 80% by August, causing layoffs, contractors not to be paid, and maintenance and expansion projects to be halted everywhere, threatening another drop back into recession.
Additionally, our Arizona-controlled HURF funds have been steadily losing their purchasing power, as shown in the chart above. If we don't take matters into our own hands here at home, investing in fixing our crumbling infrastructure using funds under our control that are already collected for that purpose -- the HURF funds -- we are courting disaster for ourselves and our children. Again, my amendment went down on party lines with Sen. Pierce in support.
As we wound down debate over the main budget bill, President Biggs took the floor to cast aspersions on those of us who dared to suggest other priorities for the budget. This was when he made his comments defending that he held the line and refused to make these investments that Senator Pierce and the Democrats had supported. "Government is raw power. Government does not have compassion or empathy," he stated.
I responded by expressing that was not my view of government. Government is us. We each were elected to help our constituents have a better life, so that we can all thrive together as an economy and a community. If we do not act with compassion and empathy, if we seek to wield raw power without those qualities, then we are letting down our selves and our constituents.
We have tremendous power over people's lives here. We can choose to use that power to control, or to support.
I am reminded of that every day that a constituent calls my office asking for help with one government agency or another.
I am reminded of that when I see the scientific breakthroughs coming from our universities.
I am reminded of that when I see the tough jobs being handled by CPS caseworkers cleaning up the messes left over from previous cuts of prevention programs.
I am reminded of that when I see the public projects we have come together to create -- the Central Arizona Project, the interstate highway system, the Tucson Modern Streetcar, and so much more.
I am reminded of that when I see our devoted public school teachers and firefighters and police officers putting their lives on the line to protect us from danger and help us toward our better selves.
I am reminded of that when I seen new businesses growing in our communities thanks to investments in our education system and transportation system.
President Biggs said we just don't have the money to support the services our constituents need. I reminded him that the money has always been there, but the majority has chosen to spend it in other ways, primarily by giving it away in large tax cuts to out-of-state corporations. Since 1990, we have given away more than $3.5 billion a year in those cuts. We could have more than we ever dreamed of to fund our transportation system, our public schools, our universities, CPS, and so much more. But we chose to give it away on the hope that maybe these companies might hire a few more people in Arizona, a hope that has not come to fruition.
We also have more than $10 billion a year in special tax loopholes in our sales tax code -- we don't collect taxes on four-inch pipes, paper uniforms for printing press operators, health club memberships, golf cart rentals, oil drilling equipment, and so much more. I'm not sure all those loopholes create the public benefits that might justify their existence, but there is no review process so some have been in the statutes for decades, bleeding money for no good reason.
The money is there but we have chosen to give it away instead of investing in our students, our transportation system, our children, and our community. It's time for a change in Arizona government. It's time to elect those who would build a government based on compassion and empathy, not on raw power. #RememberInNovember
Meanwhile, the Governor has issued through her spokesman a veiled veto threat on the Biggs budget, so this thing is not done. The next steps are a return to the House for concur or refuse, then a conference committee if refused -- that is a process that is one of the least transparent in the whole legislature. So stay tuned. We will likely be working on this for a while longer. And then there's about 300 bills in the pipeline, ready for floor action. Onward!
--> Tucson High presents The Laramie Project: If you were as outraged as me about SB1062 and what that said to the world about whether we are a state that embraces all people, please consider buying tickets for the outstanding Tucson High spring performance of the very intense and important play "The Laramie Project". It is being directed by the People Magazine national Teacher of the Year, Art Almquist, with a cast of amazing student actors including my talented daughter GiGi (a THS freshman). I will be on stage after the opening night performance on April 11 for an audience talkback.
These tickets will disappear quickly. Here's the info you need:
Tucson High Performing Arts presents THE LARAMIE PROJECT, Directed by Art Almquist
On October 7, 1998, a young gay man was discovered bound to a fence in the hills outside Laramie, Wyoming, savagely beaten and left to die in an act of brutality and hate that shocked the nation. Matthew Shepard’s death became a national symbol of intolerance, but for the people of Laramie the event was deeply personal, and it is their voices we hear in this stunningly effective theatre piece. Moisés Kaufman and fellow members of New York’s Tectonic Theater Project made six trips to Laramie over the course of a year and a half in the aftermath of the beating and conducted more than 200 interviews with people of the town. From these interviews as well as their own experiences, Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre members have constructed a deeply moving theatrical experience in which the characters tell their stories directly to the audience. The Laramie Project chronicles the life of the town in Laramie in the year after the murder, using 32 actors to embody more than 60 different people in their own words – from rural ranchers to university professors. The result is a complex portrayal that dispels simplistic stereotypes and explores the depths to which humanity can sink, and the heights of compassion of which we are capable. This is a production not to be missed, and one that will not soon be forgotten. Contains mature language and content. Produced with the support of SAAF and the Fund for Civility and Understanding.
“Astonishing. Nothing less than an examination of the American psyche at the end of the millennium.” Mike Kuchwara, AP
“One of the year’s ten best (1998). A pioneering work and a powerful stage event.” TIME magazine
April 11, 18, 19, 25, 26, May 2 & 3 – 7:00 PM, Saturday May 3 Matinee– 2:00 PM
Seating is limited. Reservations and advance ticket sales strongly encouraged. Call 225-5326 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley