The Farley Report from Phoenix #265: 2-14-17

Howdy, Friends O'Farley…

Happy Arizona Statehood Day! On our beloved state’s 105th birthday, let’s offer a gift of love to ourselves: A change in priorities in our state government. 

This is the last week for bills to be heard in their originating chamber (with the exception of Appropriations Committee), so in this Farley Report I’ll run down a few of my bills that will not be heard, at least in their original form — taken together, they are an alternative vision for our state that would move us all forward once we have the power to enact them.

That’ll come after a brief update on the latest attempt to gut public schools and replace them with a whole bunch of unaccountable debit cards for all.  

But first, the Farley Report Pledge Break…

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A couple of weeks ago at a community event in Tucson attended by nearly 300 people, an audience member asked whether I would be announcing a run for governor in 2018. My answer and the audience reaction was captured on video. 

Click to watch and share. If you think I should run, please contribute today. I want to know if you are with me on this journey — it’s going to take all of us pulling together to move our state forward again.

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—> The most alarming development so far this session is the progress of two bills to swipe an average of $5,400 per student from public schools and hand it out in the form of debit cards to the parents of all 1.1 million children in the state for use at private schools, home schools, or online schools with little accountability. Sen. Debbie Lesko’s (R-Peoria) SB1431 passed 6-4 out of Senate Transportation Committee on a party-line vote last week, and last night Rep. John Allen’s (R-Scottsdale) HB2394 passed 6-5 out of House Education Committee with two Republicans (Michelle Udall (R-Mesa) and Doug Coleman (R-Apache Junction) joining all Democrats in voting No. They and all the Democrats should be thanked! Yes, the Education Committee in the House is actually 8 Republicans and only 3 Democrats. 

Passage of this bill would not only gut our already struggling schools, it would also cost the state general fund more money that could otherwise go to teacher raises, new textbooks and computers, and fixing dangerous school buildings. If you want to help stop this disaster from unfolding, please contact all House and Senate Republicans and politely ask for a No vote. I have high hopes that there are enough reasonable Republicans like Coleman and Udall who understand the importance of public education that we can stop 1431 and 2394 in their tracks, given enough public attention.  

—> This next segment is both sad and hopeful. While scores of Republican bills have been heard that move our state backwards or simply make a statement, it’s sad that creative, substantial, nonpartisan proposals like these didn’t see the light of day. Here are some of the bills on education and public safety that I introduced this year that will not be heard in their current form. That’s sad. But what’s hopeful is that these bills describe the possibility that new policy ideas can help create a better Arizona, and I won’t be giving up. Perhaps some of these might even end up in the budget!

Public safety: 

SB 1135 - handheld communications devices; driving; prohibition

Statewide hands-free only law, like the law recently enacted in Oro Valley, AZ; current law in 18 states.

SB 1086 - sentencing; aggravating factor; texting

Just like using a gun in the commission of a crime gets more jail time, this allows judges to add jail time for the use of a cellphone while driving in the injury or death caused by a vehicle crash. This can really get into the heads of people considering texting while driving. It was actually developed out of a brainstorming session I had with former President Andy Biggs. 

SB 1087 - wireless communication device; driving; prohibition

Statewide ban on the use of a handheld device to read or write a written or visual message while driving. This is the language for an ideal statewide ban on texting while driving that covers all forms of texting, including social media. 

SB 1088 - vehicles; collisions; injury; texting; penalty

Allows judges to suspend a driver’s license if the driver has killed or injured someone while using a cellphone and driving.

SB 1085 - vulnerable users of public ways

Protects bicyclists, pedestrians, construction workers, people on tractors, first responders, and disabled people who are adjacent to or using a roadway from vehicular assault in a number of ways; establishes that throwing objects at vulnerable users or forcing them off the road are crimes. This was developed during a long group of stakeholder meetings and is modeled on Florida law. 

SB 1345 - adult incarceration costs; cost comparison

For many years an annual study was required to see if private prisons were actually saving taxpayer money as their proponents suggested. After a few years of reports stating the opposite, the proponents didn’t change their minds — they eliminated the study requirement. This bill brings it back.

SB 1119 - juvenile corrections; justice; study committee

The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections currently incarcerates a total of 159 youth using an annual budget of $39 million, so we are paying per inmate each year the cost of a four-year Harvard education. $15 million is extracted from counties who currently have enough space to house the juveniles closer to home and would like to do so. The remaining ADJC facility, Adobe Mountain School, is now surrounded by neighborhoods that make the property more valuable for other types of development that would add to the quality of life for neighbors, and at the same time gain more money for education for all our kids. Additionally, studies indicate that juvenile offenders have better outcomes long-term if they are incarcerated closer to home. If we eliminated the department, we could save money for counties and the state, reduce recidivism, improve the quality of life for neighbors, and make us all safer. This bill would study the possibility of doing just that. Luckily, I am also working with Senator Karen Fann (R-Prescott) on a similar bill (SB1406), and it is moving. 

Education:

SB 1348 - STO credit; aggregate cap; freeze

The corporate tax credit for scholarships to private schools is currently capped, but that cap grows at 20% per year. It reaches that cap in a matter of hours as soon as it is opened each year, thanks to the many Arizona corporations looking for every way they can to reduce their taxes. This takes away money that otherwise could be used on teacher raises, textbooks, computers, and building maintenance at public schools. And 20% annual growth in the cap means that this tax credit will represent a huge and growing hit to our general fund each year — the same pressure that has led to cuts for public schools each year. This bill simply stops the bleeding by freezing the cap growth. With my bill, the cost by 2030 would remain at $61.9 million. Without my bill, the cost in 2030 will be $662,400,000. That’s alt-fuels territory. This must be dealt with sooner than later, regardless of the disposition of my bill. 

SB 1346 - appropriation; school solutions teams

Not long ago, the Arizona Department of Education developed a great program —  “School Solutions Teams” of education professionals sent out to underachieving schools to help figure out what they could do better. This doesn’t cost much, and it can make a huge difference in the lives of the students and teachers at the schools who get this assistance. The program was never funded. This bill simply modestly funds the program.

SB 1251 - JTEDs; ninth graders; funding

Back before the education budget-cutting began after the Great Recession, JTED career and technical education programs used to cover all four years of high school. The freshman year was cut to save money (that the majority then turned around and threw away in corporate tax cuts that have done nothing for our economy). Immediately, Ford eliminated their contributions to the JTED program because they required all four years to participate. JTED is one of the best programs for student retention and engagement that we have, along with a great workforce development tool. My bill restores the fourth year so this tool is at full strength.  

SB 1304 - JTEDs; entrepreneurship programs; review exemption

Last year Senate President Andy Biggs and Governor Ducey demanded conditions in exchange for agreeing to restore $28 million of the $30 million they cut from JTEDs the previous year. One of those conditions was that all of the programs had to be reviewed to see if they led directly to a career, had official licensing requirements, and other specific qualifiers. If they did not, they were to be defunded. One of the programs that did not qualify is entrepreneurship because there is no license, and it wasn’t considered vocational enough. I objected last year in the Joint Legislative Budget Committee but did not prevail. There are currently more than 6,000 students enrolled in JTED entrepreneurship programs all over the state, and our economic future depends on growing enthusiastic and educated entrepreneurs here at home, rather than the uncertain gamble of coaxing out-of-state companies to come here. This bill simply restores entrepreneurship to its rightful place as a JTED program so our students and our economy can thrive this entrepreneurial century. 

—> UPDATE: Last week I shared details on another part of my vision to move us forward — SB1263which creates a dedicated funding source to end homelessness in Arizona and assist first-time homebuyers with down payments. And it does this without raising taxes or using existing revenues from the General Fund. It was heard in Senate Finance Committee last Wednesday morning, but I asked that it not get a vote after testimony from one lobbyist for the Arizona Association of Realtors swayed the majority of the committee to turn against it. 

You’ll recall that, despite current law that anyone who earns income in Arizona must pay Arizona income taxes, Arizona does not recover income taxes owed by out-of-state real-estate investors on real estate sales in Arizona. We lose out on between $3.4 million and $10 million annually. That’s unfair to all of us, especially the Arizona real estate investors who do pay income on such transactions. 

My simple solution? As an escrow item at closing, collect 2% of each sale of more than $100,000 by an out-of-state investor. That puts the collection ball in the owner’s court. If the owner does not owe those taxes, he or she can file an Arizona income tax form and claim a refund.  

This is NOT a new tax or a real-estate transfer tax — it is an improved method of collecting an existing income tax, so it does not require a 2/3 majority to approve. I got a written opinion from the head attorney at Legislative Council, the folks who draft our bills, saying just that. 

But that was not good enough for Tom Farley, the Realtors lobbyist. As far as I know, he and I are not related, but as he came up to the podium I greeted him with a hearty, “Hi, Cuz!” He responded, “Mother always liked me better.” I responded, “Luckily we have different mothers. 

He shared that he had written the ballot proposition banning new real-estate transfer taxes that passed in 2007 and that he intended that no taxes should be collected at closings, whether or not the language actually said that. He could not be convinced otherwise, so he remained in opposition, and that was enough to sway the majority of the committee that they were not comfortable enough to move it forward. 

This idea is too important to die, though. Housing advocates believe that we could actually, like Utah, end homelessness in our state with the funding source in my bill. With funding from out-of-state real-estate investors that they already owe us. I’m going to keep pushing on this.

—> To end with a bit of good news, here are updates on my bills that are still moving:

SB 1073 – license plate covers; prohibition 

Bans the use of license plate covers intended to block identification of the vehicle. These covers can especially obscure plate numbers from law enforcement and witnesses to crimes in low-angle sunlight. Was the first Democratic bill to pass out of the Senate 20-10 and is now awaiting a hearing in the House. 

SB 1074 – special license plates; standard design

Creates a new standard design for new special plates with a 3” square to the side and a slogan at the bottom for customization by the benefiting organization. Does not affect current special plates; only future. County sheriffs and the Fraternal Order of Police are increasingly concerned with how difficult it has become to identify Arizona vehicles used in the commission of a crime.  Passed unanimously out of Senate Transportation and is now awaiting Senate Rules, Caucus, and COW.

SB1144 - TPT exemptions and deductions; sunset

This simply states that each one of the 331 corporate tax loopholes in our sales tax code (these are large bills!) must be brought back for debate and possible elimination every ten years. All I ask is that these loopholes be brought into the bright light of public perusal on a regular basis. These exemptions cost us more than $12 billion annually, and are part of why we have high sales tax rates and not enough money for education. Let the good ones stand on their merits and let the others fail on their lack thereof. It’s time we stopped giving away the store to every corporate lobbyist with a good argument for why his client needs a loophole. The news of this bill’s unanimous passage out of committee was given prominent play on newspaper front pages throughout the state. Passed unanimously out of Senate Transportation, Rules, and Caucus, and is now awaiting Senate COW. 

—> And on a non-political note, my Kickstarter book project to rephotograph midcentury Tucson homes has 12 days left — back it now, or forever hold your peace! Thank you!

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!

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