The Farley Report from Phoenix #147: 2-14-12

Howdy, Friends O'Farley… 

Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Centennial, Arizona! Let's celebrate by dedicating ourselves to work for candidates all over this state who can lead us forward into the next century and bring back that Arizona greatness we all deserve. 

One thing we can do to reclaim our greatness is to avert the next century's crises before they happen. Tomorrow in the Health committee, Chairman Cecil Ash (R-Mesa) will hear my first Senior Caucus bill to help avert one of those crises.

As the prime sponsor, I obtained three Republican co-sponsors to HB2713, which establishes the Arizona Long-Term Care Trust. This program allows taxpayers to set aside funds from their paycheck into a savings account that can accrue tax-free interest and be withdrawn for long-term care expenses when needed. 

More and more of us are living longer and longer. Unfortunately, it is estimated that one third of those over 80 are suffering from some form of dementia, which requires long-term care. The average cost of care in a nursing home in Arizona is now more than $82,000 a year, way more than a middle-class family can afford to pay. In-home care, when possible, is also extremely expensive.

The problem will get dramatically worse unless we find a solution. By 2040, the numbers of Americans needing long-term care will have tripled. That means the numbers of American families at grave financial risk will have tripled, too. 

All of us, no matter how old we are, will be dealing with this sooner or later. My mom needed institutional care for her dementia for three years prior to her death last April. It is hard enough to deal with the personal costs of such a diagnosis without also dealing with the potentially devastating economic costs of the care. 

Wealthy families can afford to pay for long-term care. Families in poverty can use ALTCS, the state program for indigent seniors, to pay for care. Middle-class families are stuck in the middle with no good options. If we need long-term care, we can impoverish ourselves in order to qualify for ALTCS, thus increasing costs to the state. We can push our families to the economic brink to pay for care. Or we can try to stay at home on our own longer than may be safe.

HB2713 provides a more attractive option: Encourage Arizona taxpayers of all ages to start saving now or buy long-term care premiums when they are still affordable, so that we can pay for the care we need when we need it. 

The bill (and the amendment I have developed with Rep. Ash) will allow money deposited in a Long-Term Health Care Savings Account to be subtracted from gross income and accrue interest without paying Arizona taxes. Then, when you need it, you can use the savings account to pay for long-term care expenses either at home or in a care facility. Or, if you choose, you can deduct the cost of long-term care insurance premiums from your gross income, reducing your Arizona income taxes.  

Hopefully, we can use this bill to gain support nationally and ultimately push Congress to leave its partisan bickering behind and finally tackle this issue. A federal income tax deduction could make this attractive to enough people to really head off the impending crisis.

With the strong bipartisan support, and the help of Chairman Ash, I believe we have a good chance of passing this bill out of committee. Your support could make the difference. If you have the time, please email members in support of this bill in advance of tomorrow morning's committee meeting. Here are the members' emails:

Cecil Ash: cash@azleg.gov

Heather Carter: hcarter@azleg.gov

Kate Brophy McGee: kbrophymcgee@azleg.gov

Sally Ann Gonzales: sgonzales@azleg.gov

Matt Heinz: mheinz@azleg.gov

Katie Hobbs: khobbs@azleg.gov

Peggy Judd: pjudd@azleg.gov

Justin Pierce: jpierce@azleg.gov

Kimberly Yee (a cosponsor): kyee@azleg.gov

Unfortunately, not all is good news at the Capitol. It's the last week of hearing House bills in the House, so agendas are packed with a whole lot of bills that should never have made it this far, and a bunch of strike-everything amendments, "strikers" -- bills that take over the form of an often unrelated bill and take it in new and often unpleasant directions. 

One of the dangerous strikers is being heard on Thursday afternoon in the House Employment and Regulatory Affairs (ERA) Committee. The original bill, Justin Olson's (R-Mesa) HB2571, is a relatively simple one page document that says you can fire a public employee if a court of law determines that they have harmed any person three or more times while performing their duties. 

The striker just hit my desk an hour ago. It is 275 pages long. I have not read it all -- that will take a while -- but on first reading, just one of its features is that it would appear to end the merit system and civil service protections for all state employees. 

That's a pretty big deal. Back in the bad old days of the ninetieth century, particularly in big eastern cities, politicians who gained power used to be able to fire most of their public employees and replace them with political cronies and campaign workers. There was no need for them to to have any experience at the job they were supposed to perform. The only requirement was loyalty to the political boss that hired them.

This bill, which Governor Brewer has also been seeking, would throw state government back to the days of mass crony hiring every time the governor's office changed hands. I fail to see how this would serve the purpose of good government. 

So keep an eye on this one -- you can tell the members of the ERA committee what you think by clicking on the links from this page: http://www.azleg.gov/CommitteeInfo.asp?Committee_ID=18&Session_ID=107

Another bill that could adversely affect Southern Arizona in particular is Bob Robson's (R-Chandler) HB2757, which just passed out of the House Government committee and is headed to the floor soon. It would legalize electronic billboards throughout the state, gutting Tucson's and Pima County's dark-skies ordinances and endangering thousands of jobs in the astronomy and tourism sector. 

If we are serious about creating good jobs in our community, we need to stop attacking the ones we have. Additionally, these constantly changing e-billboards pose another threat -- they serve as dangerous distractions to drivers who are at greater risk of accidents in their vicinity. If this continues to move forward I will let you know the most beneficial members to contact.

Meanwhile back on the home front, I want to ask you to help out Ron Barber in his efforts to win the spring special election in CD8 and complete Gabby's congressional term. Thanks to all of you who joined us this weekend to gather signatures and those of you who contributed. Ron has already collected more than $120,000 from more than 1700 people, and we are well on our way toward getting the signatures he needs to get on the ballot. You can help out by going to his website: http://ronbarberforcongress.com/

Many of you have asked about my own plans. I want to let you know that, along with helping Ron win the special election in CD8, I am strongly considering a run for Congress in the regular election in CD2 in the fall. I feel a strong calling to help carry Gabby's legacy forward, and to transform Congress with the power of reconciliation, a reconciliation born of the great challenges we have faced in the past year in Southern Arizona. And imagine reading a weekly "Farley Report from DC" telling the inside story of Congress!

Ron deserves all of the attention right now, so that he can create the foundation he needs to win the spring special election. In the next couple of weeks, I will make an announcement on my intentions for the fall regular election. Stay tuned!

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 

Paid for by Friends O' Farley