The Farley Report from Phoenix #244: 3-16-16

Regular Farley Report readers know there’s a lot going wrong in the governance of this state, but today I helped bring about a huge victory — for greyhounds. 

After the Farley Report pledge break, I will tell you the good news…

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—> I have been working for years to end dog racing in Arizona, which is not a sport, but an act of cruelty one step above dogfighting. The one live track remaining in Arizona is Tucson Greyhound Park (TGP), and the news coming out of that track in the last few years has not been good. Broken legs, animals fed meat from diseased and dying animals, electrocutions, untreated illness, and more forms of maltreatment have been reported in local media, but the track has continued to operate. 

The historical background makes this complicated. In the 1990s the Legislature, in a misguided effort to prop up live dog racing in the face of competition from casinos, decided to create a “hardship tax credit” and something called “The Dome”. Basically, TGP gets a tax subsidy from the State, plus $500,000 a year from a Phoenix-area horse track as long as it continues to offer live dog racing. And they have saved up a stash of $4.8 million in past tax credits that can be used to keep them profitably racing for the next 18 years should they choose to do so.

This has acted as a perverse incentive to keep live dog racing going, even though TGP itself wants to get out of the business. They can stay in operation as an off-track betting facility with simulcasts of horse and dog races from around the country and the hundreds of dogs at the track can be adopted by loving families, if we can find a way to stop the current cycle. 

After a lot of negotiating among various parties over the past few months, we found that way.

In Senate Finance committee today, Rep. JD Mesnard allowed his HB2127 to be used as the vehicle for a striker offered by Sen. Steve Yarbrough to end all live dog racing at tracks in Arizona as of December 31 of this year. Usually on opposite sides, in this case Greyhound advocacy group Grey2K and TGP both support the bill. The provisions also extend the $500,000 payments from the Phoenix horse track for two more years beyond the end of racing in order to allow for a transition time for TGP. Those payments go away completely on December 31, 2018. 

The Phoenix horse track currently opposes this compromise because, while they admit they are fine with the end of live dog racing, they want their “Dome” payments to end at the same time. In testimony, I told them I would be fine with that too, but this bill is the result of a compromise that will definitively end those payments in two years, rather than 18, and an agreed-upon deal in the hand is worth two theoretical deals in the bush. In the end, the bill passed out of committee 5-0, and I am very grateful to my colleagues for their support.

Here is veteran Capitol reporter Howie Fischer’s story on the hearing.

There will be talks on all sides before it hits the floor in order to bring the horse track on board without pushing the dog track off. I expect we will be able to accomplish this compromise, because the fate of these dogs lay in our hands. For their sake, we will get this done, and this form of cruelty will become nothing but a fading memory. 

—> Not all is safe for dogs elsewhere in the Legislature. A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Don Shooter pushed SB1248 through the Senate — a bill he openly admitted was a vehicle for a future striker. It circumvented regulatory requirements for anyone opening up a recreational body of water in an old surface mine. Although he said it would be changed, it didn’t sound like a good idea to me, so I voted No anyway, and I’m glad I did.

Tomorrow (Thursday) morning in House Agriculture, Water, and Lands committee, that bill will be used for a Rep. Brenda Barton striker to strike down local bans (like those in Phoenix and Tempe) on pet stores that sell dogs and cats from puppy mills. Perversely, it is being sold as an anti-puppy mill bill because it purports to make those stores buy only from breeders that comply with the federal Animal Welfare Act managed by the US Department of Agriculture. 

That may sound fine until you dig deeper and realize that those guidelines make it legal to keep a breeding mother dog for life in a wire cage with a wire floor that is only 4” longer than her body, and that the USDA inspectors have been instructed to not cite breeders for violations. They see their job as helping the puppy mills get their product to market in pet stores more efficiently.

The proponents have been citing the statements of a former ASPCA national director claiming that he has changed his mind about puppy mills — that they are actually all good and reputable breeders. But what they don’t tell you is that he is now a well-paid advisor for PIJAC — the pet store and commercial breeder lobbying association. 

Animal advocates, including former State Rep Nancy Young Wright, have been fighting this bill and gained a victory when it was held in House Natural Resources on Monday, but tomorrow’s hearing could be tougher. However, this is the last week to hear bills in committee, so if this striker is held or defeated tomorrow it may be dead for the session. That makes it worth taking action now. To contact committee members to politely urge they oppose the striker on SB1248, here’s the link to their contact info.

—> You heard that right, this is the last week to hear bills in committee (with the exception of Appropriations Committee next week), so one would expect to hear some budget rumblings around here. After all, last year the budget was rammed through by March 5. But relations are a little difficult among Republican factions this year, so budget may take a while.

Senate President and chief Senate budget architect Andy Biggs is running for Congress in the CD5 seat left by retiring Matt Salmon, and House Appropriations Chair and chief House budget architect Justin Olson recently announced he will be taking on Biggs in that primary. Governor Ducey’s chief of staff and chief Governor budget architect Kirk Adams was also considering that seat, but decided against it, while pointedly not endorsing Sen. Biggs. 

And if all that weren’t awkward enough, I hear that most of the Republican freshmen in the House feel they got rolled last year on the budget and are determined not to make that mistake again. So they each have a long list of special budget prizes that they are demanding, a development that won’t sit well with Sen. Biggs who prides himself in his ability to fend off special budget requests.

I did hear some whispers today that things may be starting to move soon here on the Senate side, without buy-in from the House. If that is true, we may push through a Senate-only (Senate-majority-only that is — this is Arizona after all) budget soon and force the House’s hand. Whatever happens, I will be there to tear it apart and examine the details in time for you to make your voice heard on what you think.

—> Speaking of Rep. Olson, he is pushing a version of TABOR, the disastrous budget-limiting bill that paralyzed Colorado’s ability to invest in itself several years ago and was subsequently rejected by voters. 

HB2484 would use the discredited TABOR formula of population growth plus inflation to limit the rate of growth of the state budget, and force a press release on the public whenever we approve a budget that exceeds that limit, which in the realm of reality is a meaningless figure. Telling the public when we exceed this figure would amount to misleading the public into thinking that somehow it is wrong to spend more than population growth plus inflation. 

Why is P+I meaningless? Because our state needs investment beyond simple population and inflation. Since 2000, population has grown 33%. Inmate population has grown 51%. University enrollment has grown 71%. People receiving developmental disability services have grown 134%. Kids in foster care have grown 184%. And people on AHCCCS have grown 243%. Those are real needs. 

I asked Tom Jenney, head of the Koch-brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, whether he thought funding the kids in foster care and people with developmental disabilities were important needs. He responded that funding their needs was “optional.”

Needless to say, I voted No. I hope you vote for a different legislative majority in November. 

—> Finally a reminder —  you are invited to my artist reception this Saturday afternoon for my photography show at Tucson International Airport. 

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These large canvas photomurals of Wildcat basketball, football, and Packers football must be seen in person to be believed, and you can see them at Tucson International Airport on the departure level in the Terminal B security line, all day every day in March and April.

I hope to see you Saturday, March 19, 3:30-6pm. We will have a large-screen digital TV and basketball-themed snacks set up near the art. Come on by and enjoy the second-round tournament games along with the art alongside lots of fellow Wildcat fans!

If you can’t make it, please check the work out at http://stephen-farley.pixels.com/ anytime, day or night.

Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator. 

Steve

Steve Farley

Senator, District 9, Tucson

If you like my representation and want to keep me in office, CONTRIBUTE TODAY!