The Farley Report from Phoenix #130: 3-29-11

Howdy,  Friends O'Farley,

From my Capitol office window I have been noticing small groups of Republicans going in and out of the front doors of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) all day.

That means only one thing -- we are nearing a House budget. On the House floor this afternoon the Senate budget bills were first-read, meaning that we could do a final vote on the House budget as early as Thursday.

There is no indication yet of what kind of a deal was reached (if any), but Speaker Adams and President Pearce and Governor Brewer met all day yesterday and say they are getting closer. The goings-on at JLBC mean that Republicans are being shown some of the details in small groups. Their leadership is likely also taking the opportunity to twist their arms by offering to free up some of their bills that are currently being held up as leverage for budget votes.

The Governor has publicly dug in her heels at any further K-12 cuts, but the Speaker and President want to make hundreds of millions in cuts to education. It is entirely possible that the Legislature may give the Governor a budget with massive cuts (satisfying their far-right base) that she can then line-item veto to eliminate K-12 cuts (satisfying K-12 advocates). We would end up with a budget that is as much as $300 million out of balance--something that might later be solved in a special session, possibly after Pearce and Adams have resigned their posts to run against each other for Congress (their prospects in their primary being boosted by their record of massive budget cuts).

Short-term indications are that the Senate budget bills will be amended in the House Appropriations Committee, which will then go back to the Senate for further amendments and possibly after that to Conference Committee, a process wherein any of the bills can be changed in almost any way with no public notice. There may be as little as five minutes to review hundreds of pages of amendment language before the vote.

This budget is going to hurt us all, and we will likely only have a chance to comment after the legislative majority have voted it through. This could be the most closed-door, no-public-input budget in history. I will be watching it as closely as I can and keeping you informed.

Speaking of ideological hurt, I want to draw your attention to HB2636, the Flat Tax proposal by House Republicans that I discussed a few weeks ago. You'll recall that I pointed out the testimony of Walter Dudley, the director of the Arizona Society of CPAs, in which he demonstrated that every one of six sample households (for which he projected the flat tax rules) would pay more income taxes. Republicans on the floor dismissed his numbers as not credible because they claimed his fellow CPAs would lose business on a "simpler" flat tax without deductions.

I had ordered a Fiscal Note on HB2636 at the time it passed my Ways & Means committee. Fiscal Notes can be requested by any member. They are prepared by JLBC -- that same non-partisan group of legislative economists who oversee the drafting of budgets whose offices are currently being occupied by small groups of Republicans.

House Republican leadership did not wait to find out what my Fiscal Note would say before they passed the Flat Tax out of the house by a 40-20 party-line vote. But the Note did arrive just before the vote on the bill in Senate Finance Committee. JLBC determined that the Flat Tax as proposed would raise taxes on 88% of Arizona households -- every single taxpayer who earns less than $100,000 a year.

So that is the worst of all possible options -- it raises taxes on almost all of us without raising any revenue for our state. And yet, the bill passed out of committee with every Republican in support -- 4-2. The explanations of vote were instructive. Each yes vote admitted that, yes, it was a problem that the Flat Tax will raise taxes on almost every Arizona taxpayer, but that he or she liked it "philosophically". 

This explains the passage of many bills this session, and the consideration of massive cuts to healthcare and education despite the obvious damage to our economy that will result.  Ideology trumps pragmatism and facts. Neither good arguments nor clear economic data prevail in this Legislature. Bills are passed because they "feel" right. Because they "ought to be" right. Because they fit in with the "beliefs" of the majority.

Right in line with this mode of thinking, Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) resurrected, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved on a party line vote, his personal attempt to turn the Arizona monument to 9/11 into a monument to censorship.

Longtime Farley Report readers will recall this bill as the former HB2700 from the 2008 session, which started out with 81 co-sponsors out of the 90 legislators. Due to my legislative combat inside the Capitol and hard work on the part of dedicated citizens like former firefighter Billy Shields and arts advocate Shelley Cohn, we were able to stop that bill in April of that year in Senate Appropriations committee, with two Republicans voting with Democrats to defeat it.

Mr Kavanagh personally disagrees with several of the statements inscribed into the memorial, so he wants the statements removed and replaced with statements he deems to be sufficiently "patriotic", or else simply melted down . He ignores the facts that the monument went through years of public meetings, received numerous approvals of the design at many levels (including approvals from victims' families), and satisfied very well the original intent, which was in part to create "a place for thought-provoking experiences that invite open dialogue".

In 2007, after the politicization of the 9/11 Monument by Matt Salmon in his gubernatorial run against Janet Napolitano, the Memorial Commission agreed to changes to some of the phrases, and added contextualizing panels to explain the intent of the monument. All these changes went through a full public process.  The controversy had disappeared until Mr Kavanagh decided to strike his 2008 bill onto his HB2230 this afternoon, with little public notice.

I took notice however, and was able to arrive at the committee in time to testify against the bill, re-reading my 2008 explanation of vote and explaining how free and open dialogue and diversity of opinion are the cornerstones of our democracy. They should be a vital part of any monument documenting our experiences as a country in times of peril like 9/11. The excellent track record of public meetings and public dialogue that created the monument was testament to the dedication and hard work of the Commission.

I am disturbed by the implications if seven Republican members on one Senate committee with no public notice can decide for themselves what they want in a monument, regardless of what the public thinks. It seems to me that is the way things are done in countries that do not enshrine freedom of speech in their Constitutions. In those countries, a few government officials can decide for themselves what constitutes "appropriate" speech on the part of the public. Thank God that's not our country?

Finally tonight, a Jon Stewart-esque Moment of Zen from the Arizona Legislature:

Senator Don Shooter (R-Yuma) brought a bill through my Transportation committee last Thursday that would celebrate the Tea Party's crusade for smaller government by having that government spend $32,000 to create and sell Tea Party Special License Plates and then give the proceeds to the Tea Party so that they can expand their crusade against wasteful government programs like Special License Plates.

I see the November 2012 elections as Arizona's Last Stand. Please help us take this state back for the rest of us.

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 at azleg.gov 

Paid for by Friends O' Farley