Howdy, Friends O'Farley,
We in Southern Arizona deserve some good news. Those of you who have been on this list since before the Farley Report existed will know that this is a really big deal:
Tucson's Modern Streetcar received our final "Finding of No Significant Impact" (FONSI) from the Federal Transit Administration last Thursday morning. That is the green light many of us have been working toward for the last ten years to build rail transit in Tucson.
The final FONSI means that we are now authorized to spend the $63 million in TIGER grant money from the Obama Administration and the money is in the city's bank. Construction will begin right after the Gem Show concludes, and tracks will be in the ground by late summer. Testing of the streetcars will commence next year, and we will be riding the rails by the middle of 2013. This train is leaving the station at last.
It's also important to note that we have already seen more than $120 million in private development and more than 900 jobs along the route of the streetcar, two years before it officially opens. ( for details, see http://www.downtowntucson.org/news/?p=2908 ) This new FONSI milestone will keep our economy rolling along.
Thanks to all of you who dedicated your time and energy for so long -- especially the early Tucsonans for Sensible Transportation steering committee members who have been on board the whole way: Gene Caywood, Joy Herr-Cardillo, Clague Van Slyke, Ron Spark, Bob Cook, Camille Kershner, and all the volunteers who spent hours in front of Casa Video in 2002-2003 gathering signatures for our citizen initiative to build a great multimodal transportation system. And huge thanks to Raul Grijalva and Gabby Giffords for pushing at a federal level to enact the dream. A small group of dedicated people really can create change!
Meanwhile back at the Legislature, 91 people are trying to create change, although not always for the better. Next Monday is the last day to introduce bills, so our time is filled with members visiting each other's offices to give elevator speeches on our lawmaking ideas in order to solicit cosponsors for policy ideas big and small.
I want to feature a couple of my smaller bills for traffic safety that I have already introduced. One is in the news today due to a comprehensive study released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which concludes definitively that red-light photo enforcement systems reduce traffic fatalities by 24%, compared to cities without such systems.
The researchers also found that all types of accidents are reduced in camera-equipped intersections, not just those related to red-light running. According to their figures, if all of the largest 50 cities in the country had used red-light cameras during 2004-2008, 815 lives could have been saved.
My bill HB2013 will ban the sale and use of license plate covers that are designed to hide a license plate from the flash of the red-light camera strobe. Especially given the safety effects of red-light cameras, it should not be legal to allow lawbreakers to conceal their identities.
Speaking of highway safety, I have re-introduced my bill to ban all cellphone use-- that includes hand-held and hands-free talking, texting, emailing, websurfing or any other use-- for any driver under the age of 18. HB2426 would punish offenders by extending the period of their probationary license by at least six months, so that these young drivers could not receive their unrestricted full license until after their punishment is up.
The crash rate of 16-year-old drivers is 3.7 times higher than the average rate for all drivers, and there were more than 3,500 teens involved in accidents in Arizona in 2008 where a teen was driving. The fact is, learning to drive is hard enough without the distractions provided by today's cellphones and smartphones. We need to keep the 16 and 17 year olds focused on the road ahead to protect their lives and everyone else on the road.
Another one of my bills, HB2557, has received a lot of attention from many of my friends who don't agree with the concept -- perhaps including many of you. But I want you to understand clearly where I am going with this before you decide that I've gone off the deep end with this.
HB2557, which has five Republican and eight Democratic co-sponsors, seeks to tax the sales of Medical Marijuana (MM) at 300%. That could bring in as much as $1.8 billion a year, enough to preserve health care for everyone in poverty (as voters intended in Prop 204), restore our education cuts, restore transplant services, boost our economy, and pay off our massively increasing debt load. 300% is roughly the level at which we currently tax cigarettes, and it is roughly equivalent to the markup that dispensaries will take as profits for the sale of MM. A $2 joint would cost $8. Money could also be used to inspect the quality and safety of MM, something that is not currently going to happen.
I want to make my position very clear. I am not taking a stand on the value of MM. I simply am sick that we are heading toward even more cuts to people in need (the Governor proposes cutting 280,000 people off AHCCCS, including 5,200 seriously mentally ill-- moves that could also endanger 42,000 private sector jobs) while we are facing a Republican majority that will not consider any other revenue options. This one they are considering. Is this tax worth it? Certainly for those transplant patients who are facing death if their procedure is not funded, it is. For those 280,000 people in poverty who are about to lose all their health care, it is.
For the last two years I and other Democrats have been hammering on the more than $10 billion in corporate tax loopholes in our sales tax code, many of which we must close, and I am still pushing in that direction. But no high-dollar revenue option has come close to being considered by the two-thirds Republican majority until this one. So we need to have this discussion. If people think that 300% is too much, can we deal with 200% ? 100% ? The latter would still bring in enough money to fund the transplants and everyone in poverty to have health care, although it would not raise enough on its own to stop the education cuts.
I understand the high emotions I am hearing from MM supporters, but this is democracy, and my job as a Representative is to start debate and then engage in it. We need to all remember that democracy is messy, and that the end product of a bill is always very different from the beginning, and that is a good thing. The bottom line is that the Legislative majority has not balanced the budget for the last two years, and our crisis will only grow worse if they continue to cut services and endanger private sector jobs. We need to balance the budget and stop the gimmicks and borrowing. Taxing MM is a tool that can get us there.
Another tool to get there is to flatten our sales tax code by eliminating loopholes. My bill to eliminate 4" pipes has now been introduced as HB2564, and is already starting the discussion up here in some pretty interesting places -- more on its prospects next week.
If you read last week's Farley Report, you know that I included a link to the official report from the AZ Department of Revenue, listing all the corporate tax credits and corporate tax exemptions in our sales tax code. I invited you to read it (particularly pages 97-122) and let me know your top five worst loopholes.
27 people have written in so far to share their opinion, and here is this week's selection of Farley Report reader's Top Five Worst (or in some cases Silliest):
1) Gas/oil company loopholes
2) Implants used as growth promotants and injectable medicines for livestock and poultry owned by persons engaged in producing or feeding livestock or poultry
3) Arranging an amusement activity as a service to a person?s customers if that person is not otherwise engaged in the business of operating or conduction an amusement is not taxable under the Amusements classification
4) NBA All-Star game events & amusements
5) Paper machine clothing sold to a paper manufacturer and directly used or consumed in paper manufacturing
Reader Cathy Paredes sums it up by saying we should get rid of "All of them. In a time when we cannot support the citizens of Arizona for their safety, health and education, we need to have everyone to stop paying themselves back."
If you want to continue your search for the worst of the worst corporate giveaways already in statute, here's that link again. Feel free to pass it around so all Arizonans find out who really wins in our tax code -- it isn't you and me:
I will send along five more low-lighted exemptions next week for your reading pleasure.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Representative.
Arizona State Representative, District 28
Assistant Minority Leader
Ranking Member, Transportation Committee
Ways & Means Committee
Capitol office: 602-926-3022
Tucson office: 520-398-6000
Official email: sfarley at azleg.gov
Paid for by Friends O' Farley