The 53rd Arizona Legislature was officially sworn in yesterday. So it begins…
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—> I am so honored that you have given me the privilege of representing you in the 48th, 49th, 50th, 51st, 52nd, and now 53rd Arizona Legislature. Yesterday I was sworn in for my sixth term, since there is still so much work to be done on your behalf. Thank you for allowing me to do that work as your Senator. At this point in our country’s history, the job of upholding our country’s democratic traditions and civil discourse is so important — I will do my part every day I serve.
—> My guests today included Lt. John Strader, the chief executive officer for the Tucson Police Department who is helping keep the entire community safe and secure, Dr. Lee Lambert, chancellor of Pima Community College who has brought that vital institution back from the brink, and my friend Mohammed Kher, who four years ago was trying to run a shirt shop with his degree in economics in Aleppo, Syria, but the constant bombings and violence destroyed everything he had. He fled the terror to Kayseri, Turkey, and went to work for an international company for four years while waiting for his refugee background checks to be completed.
Mohammed arrived in Tucson two months ago and is hoping to get a business degree at the UofA. I thought it was extremely important for Governor Ducey and members of the legislature to meet a Muslim refugee from Syria and understand his story. The future of our country is bright if we continue to embrace brave, strong, entrepreneurial people like Mohammed as our newest Americans, building a bright future alongside those of us who have been here a bit longer. I’m hoping some of the folks who heard his story (like the Governor) might think differently next time they are tempted to support a ban on Muslims and/or refugees.
A quick pitch here — my Facebook group Arizona Welcomes Refugees is sponsoring another Syrian Sweets Sale next Sunday, January 15, at Temple Emanu-El in Tucson at 225 N Country Club. more than 30 refugee families will be baking delicious sweets (and savory items, too) all this week to sell to you and your family from 1-3pm. Arrive early — we expect hundreds of people to attend this event where you can build community while enjoying tasty treats and helping newly arrived refugee families earn a little extra money to help pay their expenses while they get on their feet — all the money you pay to them stays with them. The love traveling in all directions is a wonder to experience.
—> The centerpiece of opening day is always the State of the State speech, when we find out the Governor’s priorities for the year.
As I shared with various media outlets at the Capitol after listening to the address, Governor Ducey talked a good game on education investment but refused to say where he would find the money. After his months-long silence on how we get past 49th in state support for K-12 (even including the Prop 123 money — that only paid for 70% of inflation), he professed his support for a series of Democratic education initiatives from higher teacher pay to signing bonuses to all-day Kindergarten.
Which is great. Welcome on board, Governor. The problem is, he didn’t profess any support for additional revenues to pay for these investments, which could amount to more than a billion dollars annually. In fact he proposed to dig the fiscal hole deeper by committing to giving away more money in the special-interest tax cuts that have done nothing for wages, job creation, or the economy. Here’s a couple of chilling charts (courtesy of ASU President Michael Crow) that demonstrate what those tax giveaways and education cuts have created:
Let’s look more closely at just one of the Democratic programs that the Governor now supports — raising teacher pay. Currently 44% of new Arizona teachers leave after two years. Many of them say the low pay is just not worth it for the high stress and long hours. Increasing teacher pay by $10,000 each would get us from 47th in the country to $2,000 below average. It would also cost around $600 million. We can and should pursue higher teacher pay, but we must pay for it sustainably with a fair funding source — my choice would be the elimination of a few corporate tax loopholes in the sales tax code. Even the renewal and increase of Prop 301 sales tax money (which expires in four short years) would help get us there, but the Governor never mentioned Prop 301.
According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, thanks to the massive corporate tax cuts enacted since 2008 at the expense of school funding we currently have less than $24 million in available money to invest if we don’t roll back tax credits or find some other revenue source. Unless the Governor plans to ignore the Constitution and start spending up a deficit, he’s just overpromised something he intends to underdeliver yet again.
Which is not a surprise — he also once again boasted about his support for JTED career and technical education without mentioning he cut it by $30 million in 2015, then was forced by massive bipartisan pressure to restore it last year under duress.
—> The Governor announced he would support another Democratic priority — restoring to 24 months TANF eligibility for payments to families in crisis if they could prove they were actively looking for a job, but he neglected to add that he was the one who last year cut the program to 12 months max, the worst in the nation. Once he cut it, he discovered that we actually lost money on the deal due to lost federal matching funds and increased costs for other services to the families who were kicked off the plan.
There were long stretches of the hour-long speech which were simply laundry lists about things in Arizona that he likes that he has nothing to do with, and a few small policies seemingly chosen at random without explanation. One was his desire to fund a drug that he said stops drug cravings and administer it to all prisoners, while he said nothing about the fact that there is already therapy-based treatment available for addiction in inmates that pays for itself by reducing recidivism rates by 62%, and his Corrections Department is only providing that treatment to a small fraction of those released each year despite a bipartisan law directing a huge expansion of the program. Around 13,000 untreated prisoners with substance abuse problems are likely to be released this year.
Like last year, he found time to insult the federal government and California, always a crowd-pleaser, and to please his wealthy backers by railing at “freedom-killing regulations” as he boosted a new website to ask business owners to report “red tape” so he could eliminate 500 regulations by the end of this year. I’m hoping one of those regulations he wants to get rid of isn’t the one that restricts companies from dumping toxins in our air, water, and soil…
All hat, no cattle.
His detailed budget proposal that will reveal whether there might in fact be a few cows in his corral comes out Friday; I'm really interested in the numbers to see if there’s a chance we can work together to help him do the education proposals right. I’m always hopeful.
—> On the big-gamble economic development and job-destruction front, a few days before Christmas the Governor put a billboard up on the Executive Tower to promo a PR event welcoming to Arizona the Uber driverless cars that he claimed were driven out of California by unnecessary regulation.
That assertion was not accurate. In fact, California asked Uber to submit their autonomous cars to licensing after videos caught a couple of them running red lights and nearly missing pedestrians in crosswalks. It would appear that Uber is rushing this technology to market well before they are fully tested, much like the Governor’s favorite tech company in 2015, Theranos, whose technology has now been banned from use by the FDA for producing false results on blood tests from Arizona’s citizens.
I am not a luddite, and I believe that these cars, once perfected, will indeed dramatically reduce traffic injuries and fatalities. Robots don’t drink, text, or fall asleep. But I do believe it is prudent to take all precautions against harm to our citizens before setting them loose on our roads. We should at least wait until the Governor’s own advisory council on autonomous vehicles develops guidelines for how we assess blame for collisions, what infrastructure needs updating, how software decides which of two bad outcomes to choose (kill the pedestrian or smash into a tree), and much else.
And what happens to the thousands of Arizona Uber drivers who will be out of a job? Which is the plan — Uber is currently running at a huge loss, and its future viability depends on how fast it can dump its drivers. That seems to be part of why the vehicles are being rushed to real-life testing. The Governor’s praise of the “sharing economy” ignores how it may end up only benefiting those few at the top who own the robots, while the rest of us face an increasingly job-scarce economy.
Universities and community colleges are the foundation of how we can thrive in this century where automation and globalization will kill not just individual jobs, but entire industries. We will need to invest in an education model that provides an excellent start from pre-K to graduate school to create new entrepreneurs and a well-trained workforce, as well as a revitalized system of lifelong learning to retrain people whose jobs no longer exist.
Here’s one more slide from Dr Crow that tells that story, too:
The jobs that require less education are the ones most at risk. Not everyone will get an advanced degree, although we should strive for it. We will also need to start a serious discussion on how we create policies that support those who will no longer be able to find any jobs so they can have a decent life and a sense of purpose. Higher ed and lifelong learning will be key.
Sadly, despite its centrality to our success as a state, one thing not mentioned at all in this State of the State was higher ed — except in the context of the Governor telling them to create a new tuition-free teacher academy without new funding. At least our water crisis got three words…
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
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