The Farley Report from Phoenix #146: 2-7-12

Howdy, Friends O'Farley… 

Yesterday, students from UofA, ASU, and NAU spent the day at the Capitol talking with legislators. Unfortunately -- for the third consecutive year -- they are on the defense, with a full court press against legislative attacks on the university system.

As I told the students in my speech kicking off their day, we have a lot of work to do. Senator Ron Gould (R-Lake Havasu City) wants to allow guns on campus (SB1474) in order to make students safer, and Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) wants to make students in poverty pay $2000 more per year in order to make them richer. The governor's budget goes after UofA in particular as she sets each university against the other fighting over the few remaining pieces of a shrinking revenue pie. 

Kavanagh's bill (HB2675) to make students with little or no family income pay a minimum of $2000 a year (unless they are athletes on scholarship) cuts off superachieving poor kids at the knees and is guaranteed to maintain their cycle of poverty and keep our state's economy in the dumps. We need all our best and brightest to be educated and working to help our 21st-century economy, not watching wistfully from the sidelines, knowing they could have helped Arizona become great again.

The good news is that the students understand that this concerted attack on them and their colleagues is no joke, and they are galvanized to work for change.

This session's attacks are not limited to universities. Yesterday's epic Ways & Means committee revealed a few really nasty attacks on the fiscal foundations of public infrastructure and public schools.

David Stevens (R-Sierra Vista) proposed that any initiative or referendum that increases taxes, closes tax loopholes or tax credits, or creates a special tax-levying district or authority would need a 2/3 majority (instead of a simple majority) of voters to pass. 

Virtually no initiative or referendum of this type has ever passed by this margin in Arizona history. 2010's popular one-cent sales tax for education got 65%, so even it would have failed under this bill. The prohibition against repealing loopholes without a 2/3 majority would mean that all those $10 billion of corporate loopholes in the sales tax code would be enshrined forever.

But that isn't the worst of it. The really jaw-dropping feature of HCR2043 is that is would apply RETROACTIVELY to November 2002. 

Yes, you read that right, Every school bond or override, every regional transportation authority election, every public safety bond, every one-cent sales tax for education would be declared null and void. The money, long spent, would need to be paid back. Road projects completed by Pima County's RTA and schools funded by bonds would have to be un-built. Total financial chaos.  

Rep. Stevens told the committee that he intended to amend the bill on the floor to remove the retroactivity clause, but it passed out of committee on a party-line vote unamended. I plan to offer that amendment and another one on the floor to require that the bill itself require a 2/3 majority to pass. We'll see if Rep. Stevens supports that.

Another bill that passed in Ways & Means was Debbie Lesko's (R-Sun City) HB2626, which would create "Empowerment Scholarship Accounts", an idea dreamed up by the Goldwater Institute (which you read a few weeks ago is still trying to avoid registering as a lobbyist) and disseminated by ALEC that purports to allow parents of kids in special education classes to go to private and religious schools and take their public funds with them. 

This helps to drain the funds in the public school system so that kids who stay have fewer resources and teachers to help them. Which Goldwater Institute staffers have described as their goal -- to eliminate state funding to public schools.

Goldwater Institute's Dan Lips wrote about these "empowerment accounts", "Rather than providing funding to public schools to provide services for children, government funding for education could be provided directly to parents in the form of a state-managed education account."

What would this brave new world look like? Senator Rick Murphy (R-Glendale) provided us with a glimpse during my cross-examination as he testified in favor of this year's school voucher bill, SB1047.

I have described in the past how "tuition tax credits" of up to $500 per person, along with unlimited corporate tax credits, take money out of our public school system and are funneled to students at private and religious schools via a privately-run School Tuition Organization (STO) that takes 10% off the top for overhead and expenses. 1047 increases the credit amount per person, and reduces the amount going to the students while increasing the amount going to the STO. 

But even more problematic are a couple of other parts of the bill that were described as "administrative adjustments" until I brought them up. One provision allows these public funds to be spent at schools which do not administer any nationally norm-referenced exams or do not reveal the aggregate results of these exams to the public. This leaves parents with no way to find out how well the school is performing, and the school is no longer accountable to the public despite receiving public funds. Sen. Murphy justified this removal of accountability by telling us, "The market would take care of that. It is really not a good idea for the government to regulate private schools." 

The most inexplicable hidden provision is that 1047 strikes the fingerprint requirement for teaching staff and personnel, a standard that has kept kids safe from sexual and other predators at schools across the state for decades.

When I asked Mr Murphy why on earth he would want to put our kids at risk in this way, his answer revealed much about the utopian vision of the Goldwater Institute and ALEC. Here is his response, verbatim: "That is more a function of getting the camel's nose of government regulation out from under the tent of private schools, it has nothing to do with the substance of what that regulation is… What I don't want to have happen is for the existence of a mandate of anything to then in future be the justification to have continued mandates that don't necessarily follow along the lines of things that are as important as those. More of a principle issue than it is the substance."

So to Mr. Murphy, principle is more important than substance. This embrace of ideology gets him and some of his colleagues into interesting binds where they oppose something they may actually believe in--like protecting our kids from sexual predators--simply because the overarching principle of eliminating government regulations is seen as more important. 

We saw this in 2010 when Jesse Kelly, running for Congress, argued that food safety inspections were governmental overreach. We see this constantly from Republican elected officials at every level of government these days, as the legacy of the Tea Party. Common-sense laws to protect us from real dangers -- like driving while texting -- are torn down in response to a perceived danger of a government gone wild. 

What most Arizonans see in this rigid ideological thinking however is an unwillingness to come up with real solutions that help everyone, regardless of belief system. Which is why Arizona is ready for change this November so we can finally focus on what matters -- jobs, schools, and the economy. It's time to elect candidates who represent all of us, not just the people who voted for them in their primary.

As you know, the only special interest I report to is you. Please consider helping out my campaign for the State Senate as I carry out my leadership duties to recruit, support, and elect a new generation of Arizona leaders. I can't do this alone. I need your support right now. 

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Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Representative. 

Steve

Steve Farley
Arizona State Representative, District 28
Assistant Minority Leader
Ranking Member, Transportation Committee
Ways & Means Committee
Ethics Committee
Legislative Council
Capitol office: 602-926-3022
Tucson office: 520-398-6000
Official email: sfarley@azleg.gov 

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