So it begins…
The 52nd Legislature, Second Regular Session got underway on Monday with pomp and circumstance and good will and high hopes, much of which sadly faded soon after the Governor began his State of the State speech to our joint session. But I’m keeping hope alive regardless.
Read on for the full story after this brief pledge break.
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Opening Day is a bit like the first day of school combined with a class reunion. As I begin my tenth year serving you, I realize that over the summer and fall I genuinely missed many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and — disagreements on policy aside — it is good to be back on the Senate floor in their company, ready once more to debate the business of the people in the heart of our democracy.
We were treated to a gorgeous rendition of our National Anthem sung by the full concert choir of the Arizona School of the Arts surrounding us, and baseball great Tony LaRussa gave a speech on leadership. We each introduced our invited guests in the gallery and shared stories of their accomplishments.
Around 2pm we made our way to the House to sit with our fellow Representatives. I sat with my seatmate Victoria Steele for the last time — she resigned that afternoon to focus on her run for Congress in CD2, and I wish her my best.
Governor Ducey took to the podium around 2:40 and began his second State of the State address.
Sadly, his words rang out in stark contrast to his first speech last year, which he began, “Political parties do not have to be hostile parties, set against one another in every case. The best achievements are shared achievements.”
One year later, he led with cheap, partisan potshots, and never let up. He raved about the achievement of his fellow Republicans while calling Democrats big spenders, drunken partiers, failed politicians, elites, special interests, promoters of trendy feel-good policies, job destroyers, and cynics. (Ironically, he went on to praise himself for signing the job-creating crowdfunding bill that I sponsored along with Sen. David Farnsworth, without mentioning either of us.)
Then he asked us to “put politics aside, and put our kids and teachers first” by supporting Prop 123, which he described as “a monumental, bipartisan, 3.5 billion dollar solution” that is actually nothing more than 70% of basic inflation costs for our K-12 schools after five years of cuts. Prop 123’s $200 extra per pupil will move us from 50th in state support for K-12 schools to 49th in the country. We do need it to pass so we can at least keep running in place, but we need much more investment to finally move forward and keep our kids and our economy competitive.
Even after all his partisan potshots, I allowed myself to get excited when the Governor proclaimed accurately, “This is a first step but not our only step to improve public education in Arizona.”
Could he be calling for a restoration of the billions of dollars cut by the current majority from classrooms, building maintenance, computers and textbooks for students over the past five years? Might he be calling for increased teacher pay and mentorship to deal with our teacher retention crisis that has led to 44% of new teachers leaving the profession after only two years? Perhaps he would demand a bill on his desk by the end of the month restoring the fatal cuts to our state’s JTED programs?
Nope. His next sentence was, “We know spending is not the measure of success.”
No new dollars for education, despite having more than $1.1 billion currently in surplus (including the rainy day fund). No mention of the renewal of Prop 301, the current .6% sales tax for education that expires in 2020.
Governor Ducey praised plenty of things throughout the speech without offering new resources to those things to counteract their last five years of draconian cuts. Entities that got empty shout-outs were universities (our economic engine that suffered cuts of $2.5 billion since 2008), community colleges (that were zeroed out in Pima and Maricopa counties), JTEDs and CTE (that will face risk of a death spiral unless last year’s cuts are reversed before March), and even Gabby Giffords for racing in the Tour de Tucson (although he didn’t say a thing about her passion for common-sense gun laws).
He promised to reduce corporate taxes even further than we already have (despite evidence that the more than $4 billion annually cut from the general fund over the last 25 years has devastated programs for the middle class while doing virtually nothing to create jobs), and railed against corporate and environmental regulations, calling for the repeal of them all, saying “my aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.” (If that is the case, he should note that he signed 324 laws last year alone, all but 2 of them sponsored by his fellow Republicans.)
I hope he has a conversation with the governor of Michigan about how well the lack of water regulations has worked for the lead-poisoned citizens of Flint over the past couple of years.
The governor directly threatened cities and counties with the loss of their state shared revenues if they dare decide to pay their working poor a few pennies more per hour in wages.
He announced, “Arizona should be to the Sharing Economy, what Texas is to oil, and what the Silicon Valley is to the tech industry.” I fail to see how an economy based on part-time gigs with no health insurance, sick days, or retirement programs is equivalent to the creation of wealth through new resources, manufacturing, or new inventions. What happened to Arizona as the Persian Gulf of Solar Energy? How about really investing in our P-20 education system so we can provide the schools and workforce new-economy companies need to create jobs here alongside new homegrown entrepreneurs?
He claimed there is no water shortage in Arizona — it’s all California’s fault. And while he stated he was directing the Department of Water Resources to draw up plans to assure our future water supply, he went on to insult Jerry Brown, the governor of California, the most important state with which we need to negotiate to assure that supply. Some statesmanship would probably help those negotiations be a bit more fruitful, Governor.
He did not mention any infrastructure investments or the benefits that would come from building the transportation system that our businesses and citizens need to move ahead.
There were a few good ideas in the speech.
One was a proposed new community corrections center in Maricopa County modeled on one in place in Pima County to help released prisoners transition back into the community with substance abuse treatment and counseling, aimed to reduce recidivism and the prison population. But he made no mention of other ways to reduce crime and reduce the numbers of prisoners in the system — such as substance abuse treatment for those about to be released, and reduction in mandatory minimum sentences (Alabama reduced their mandatory minimums from 85% to 50% and crime has actually gone down).
Another was a commitment to increase support for kinship care — the ability for relatives to take care of kids who are abused or neglected by their parents — as an alternative to becoming foster kids. This is a great idea, and many of us have been pushing for this for some time. But the crisis of leadership in the Department of Child Safety will take much more than a small kinship care program.
There are nearly 20,000 kids in the care of the state right now, and nearly 15,000 abuse or neglect cases that have not been investigated in the last 60 days by a department that last year moved $160 million in money designated for in-home prevention services to out-of-home foster services, guaranteeing that the numbers of cases and foster kids will continue to climb. If the Governor won’t act here, the Legislature will, and in a bipartisan way. The DCS disaster is horrifying my colleagues in both parties.
The speech ended with him saying, “We can think big and aim high.” I wish he would take his own advice. I know that we can move forward in Arizona and become the state we’ve always wanted to live in which invests wisely in our citizens’ future instead of dissolving into partisan habits of pecuniary parsimony. We deserve better.
—> I was honored to have among my Opening Day guests an Iraqi refugee couple, Khalid Aljashame and his wife Eman. I met Khalid though my efforts helping refugees from around the world feel welcome in Arizona and working to help them get settled in their new country (you can find out more about that on our Facebook group page). Khalid put his life on the line for us working as a translator for U.S. forces in Iraq for six years until his house was bombed and his family threatened by terrorist groups. When he came to Arizona he decided to pay it forward by dedicating his life to helping other refugees become new Americans. I felt it was important for my colleagues to consider an alternative view to that being peddled by many of our politicians lately that refugees are terrorists.
I also felt it was important for Governor Ducey to consider an alternative view so he might rethink his desire to refuse entry to Arizona to refugees from anywhere in the world, so I brought Khalid and Eman to his opening day reception in the executive tower 8th floor conference room. I shared Khalid’s story and the governor shook their hands and said “Welcome to America.” I hope that exchange, and many more like it, can create a new attitude. These are people who are so grateful to be here, filled with such powerful energy to live the American dream. We all benefit from that.
—> Speaking of refugees, I want to tell you a story about an 18-year-old from Baghdad named Sarah. She is bright as can be, totally fluent in English, and graduated from high school early at age 16. She was accepted to a medical college and her dream of becoming a doctor looked bright until her family came under threat and they were forced to flee.
For the next two and a half years, she lived with her family in Turkey working as a translator as they awaited the many background checks needed to be certified as a refugee and come to America. Just before Christmas, Sarah and her family arrived at the Tucson Airport and started their new life in Southern Arizona. She tells me that even in Iraq, she always felt like she was an American, and now she is filled with joy every day just to be here.
I taught them how to ride the SunTran bus system and took Sarah to Pima College to restart her medical education. I was very surprised to find that she would have to wait a full year to start taking classes at affordable cost because she was not considered an in-state resident.
I understand that we require a year of residency to qualify for in-state tuition at community colleges or universities to avoid people from states like California moving here a week before college starts to save on tuition. But a refugee who has already waited two and a half years in limbo isn’t simply moving to Arizona to save money on tuition. There is no public policy purpose to make a refugee delay her entry into job training so she can become a contributing member of our economy.
So I drew up a bill to add certified United States refugees to the list of those who can pay in-state tuition for Arizona community colleges and universities. Now numbered SB1123, I obtained the co-sponsorship of Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake), the new chair of the Senate Education Committee, and she told me she will hear it in her committee. I always look for the best in people and often I find it. I will keep you posted once we get a hearing date.
—> I'm humbled to have been named by the Arizona Republic as one of 16 Arizonans to watch in 2016. You can read the stories of all 16 here. While it's nice to be acknowledged for the work I do, I don't do this for the recognition. I do it for the opportunity to make this state a better place. I'm grateful you have given me the opportunity to do that.
—> That’s enough for tonight. Next week, I’ll tell you about my new idea for how we can end homelessness in Arizona by closing a loophole for out-of-state real estate investors. Ten years in this business, and I never run out of hope!
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
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