Economic Inequality, Access to Care & Workforce Development: A Progressive Roadmap (video)

On December 4, 2017, I gave a talk on economic inequality at the Democrats of Greater Tucson Luncheon. This is the text of that speech.

Economist Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, recently gave a talk which focused on solving economic inequality. He pointed to five key areas of the economy that keep the rich rich and keep the rest of us in our places:

  • Macroeconomics;
  • Intellectual property rights;
  • Practice protection by highly paid professionals;
  • Financial regulation; and
  • Cooperate governance.

Given this list, can a state legislator like me make a dent in economic inequality? I think so.

I ran on a platform that focused on economic reform and public banking; equality and paycheck fairness; and attacking the opioid crisis.

How does my platform dovetail with Dean Baker’s list? There is quite a bit of overlap—particularly in macroeconomics, intellectual property rights, and practice protection.

Macroeconomics

Table from “The Revenue Impact of Arizona’s Tax Expenditures, Fiscal Year 2015/2016.” A “tax expenditure” is an umbrella term for the different types tax giveaways.

When Baker refers to macroeconomics, he talks about how the Federal Reserve Board controling interest rates, manages the money supply, and attempts to control the economy.

The state’s budgetary process is akin statewide macroeconomics. The state government balances spending and income and chooses to invest in some parts of the economy, while starving others.

The state budget is not only a policy document, it is a moral document. Money is attached to programs and ideas that have priority. What does the Arizona budget say about our state government? It says our government values big corporations more than the people.

Arizona’s finances are underwater. Arizona gives away more than $13 billion a year in tax breaks and saves only $9.8 billion to run the state.

On top of that, with additional scheduled tax cuts rolling out, the state budget has a projected $200 million shortfall for the coming year.

AND THERE’S MORE—the current Congress “tax reform” plan will cut funding for the states and result in an even bigger budget shortfall in Arizona.

Arizona is already in a hole—thanks to Republican tax cuts at the state level. Now, Congressional Republicans are poised to make it worse for the people of Arizona and worse for our state government.

I say, “The party’s over, boys!”  We can no longer afford trickle down economics. Someone has to pay for education, roads, and the well-being of our citizens.

I campaigned on taking down the tax breaks. In 2017, the Progressives in the Arizona House set a line in the sand and said that we wouldn’t vote to give any money away until the schools were made whole. As a result, Libertarians and Progressives stopped most of the tax cut bills in the last session.

Now I think Progressives should step across that line and stop the wasteful Republican spending whenever we can.

In 2017, Senator Steve Farley proposed a bill to review the tax giveaways and loopholes—like the infamous 4” pipe that is exempt from sales tax. That bill passed both the House and the Senate but was vetoed by Governor Ducey. After all, he can’t give his political rival a bipartisan win so close to the election. Who cares what is best for the state or the people?

Besides taking down as many tax breaks and loopholes we can, Progressives should look at the basic fairness of our state’s economy and our laws.

All too often, the state legislature makes decisions for short-term economic or political gain, and in the long term, those decisions cost us money.

  • Cutting public education,
  • Cutting the university budgets,
  • Cutting healthcare for children and families,
  • Cutting cash assistance for the poor,
  • Cutting childcare assistance,
  • Delaying road maintenance,
  • Starving the local governments,
  • Limiting the voice of the citizens,
  • Enacting anti-woman, anti-immigrant and anti-worker legislation.

That is what they are up to.

Did you vote for any of this? I didn’t.

A few months ago, I gave a talk on Balancing Social Responsibility with Individual Liberty when making public policy. Many Americans are frustrated with our government. They complain that they are not being heard and that “the system” is rigged against them.

There is a basic feeling of unfairness. My theory is that as long as our laws are written by special interest groups and big corporations, the system won’t be fair for the people.

What do the people ask for? Education, jobs, roads, a living wage, safety, justice, voting rights, basic healthcare, and a social safety net.

What are we getting? Tax breaks for big corporations and the 1%.

How do we combat this imbalance in priorities and funding?

Progressives must fight for fairness in our laws. We must stand up against the existing tax cuts and tax credits and any future ones. We can’t afford to keep giving money away. When we give tax breaks to multinational corporations, we are just throwing Arizona taxpayer money over the border and taking it our of circulation here.

What if we invested in the taxpayer to-do list—education, roads, safety, justice, healthcare, and social safety net programs? This investment would create good-paying jobs in these professions. Also, the more money we have in circulation in our economy, the more economically robust our state will be.

When the government cuts funding for education, roads, safety, justice, healthcare, and social safety net programs, they are cutting jobs and potentially throwing people into poverty.

We need to push back. Tax cuts are unsustainable and they are bad for the economy in the long-term. If we invested in the people’s to-do list, we would grow our economy and diversify our workforce.

Intellectual Property Rights

Protection of intellectual property rights is another item on Baker’s list of items that perpetuate economic inequality.

Patent protections have become longer and stronger over the years.

Longer term protection for intellectual property rights contributes to economic inequality because it protects the wealthy from competition, and it contributes to our high costs for patented products—like prescription drugs. Remember the Epi Pen that went from $50 per dose to a few hundred dollars a dose? Baker said that US consumers are paying $400 billion per year on drugs that would cost $80 billion on the free market, as generics.

UA College of Medicine
UA scientists are developing non-addictive pain medications.

Intellectual property rights were debated on the floor of the Arizona House in 2017. The “Intel bill”, which was passed by the Republicans during the waning days of the session, not only gave away millions of dollars in tax breaks and infrastructure (primarily to Intel), it also gave away millions of dollars in intellectual property rights into the future.

This bill funded high-tech research in private corporations AND allowed those corporations to keep the intellectual property rights forever. This is a bad deal for the people of Arizona.

What if Intel invents the next gonga computer chip with taxpayer funds? Under the current scenario, Intel keeps the profits—even though the taxpayers bankrolled the research. This is just not fair.

Privatization and consolidation of scientific research is also a statewide workforce development issue.

The Arizona Legislature should fund research through the university system—not through private corporations. Funding research through the university system fosters different types of research—like new drug development, aired lands research, or behavioral research.

There are scientists at the University of Arizona College of Medicine who are doing ground-breaking genetic research to create new non-addictive pain medications.

Why aren’t we funding this type of research with taxpayer dollars? When university scientists make discoveries, the scientists, the universities, and the people all enjoy the benefits of the discoveries and the profits from intellectual property rights. Now, we’re just giving the rights and the future revenues away.

The Arizona Legislature used to award seed grants of $10-20,000 to university-based scientists. These seed grants allow scientists to gather and potentially publish preliminary data. Pilot data are invaluable when scientists apply for multi-million-dollar national research grants.

In my opinion, the state and the city should be funding seed grants. This is a much clearer route to economic development and diversification of the workforce than trickledown economics. Also, new research jobs in Tucson will help us keep our college graduates in town.

Practice Protection

Arizona Legislature
Joint House and Senate Health Committee Hearing on Novermber 28, 2017

Last but not least on Baker’s list is practice protection for professionals like doctors, dentists and lawyers. This is a HOT issue in the Arizona Legislature. In the few short months that I have been in office, I have heard many arguments over scope-of-practice turf wars.

Last week, a joint hearing of the Senate and House health committees heard three scope-of-practice sunrise applications during seven hours of testimony and heavy questioning from the committee members. (The video is online.)

We spent five hours debating dental therapy alone. A dental therapist is someone who would work under the supervision of a dentist and would do preventive health education, dental screenings, and simple dental procedures. The proposal is that they would have three years of post-high-school education and hundreds of hours of supervised clinical practice.

There are two barriers to dental care—distance and cost. Rural Arizonans, particularly those who live on tribal lands, have distance AND cost barriers.

The tribes, the community health centers, and public health advocates see dental therapy as an upstream solution to a downstream problem of tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, and all of the related health problems.

For example, on the Navajo reservation, dental therapists could travel to far-flung communities or schools and do screenings. Using telemedicine, they could send images back to the dentist in Flagstaff who could give advice or tell the dental therapist to set an appointment for the person.

For urban dwellers in LD9, cost is more of a barrier to dental care than distance. I know many people who have gone to Nogales for dental care because they can’t afford it here and because dental insurance doesn’t cover enough.

The dental therapy debate was a hot one. In 2016, the dental therapy sunrise application got only one yes vote—from Senator Nancy Barto. At the beginning of the session, I think that she and I were the only solid “yes” votes on the 10-person joint committee. She argument was that dental therapy would save the state money
because it could reduces Medicaid costs.

Although I agree that dental therapy could save the state money, my primary argument was that dental therapy is good public health policy. It would increase access to dental care for both urban and rural residents and decrease bad dental and physical health outcomes.

The Republicans—like Reps. Jay Lawrence and Regina Cobb and Senator Debbie Lesko—were relentless in their attacks on dental therapy. I stepped up my public health game and fought hard for affordable and accessible dental care. Democratic Rep. Tony Navarrete, who represents the poorest district in the state, joined with me in fighting for the underserved of Arizona.

In the end, dental therapy passed the joint health committee on a 5-4-1 vote. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the Democrats can’t do anything because we are in the minority. The Democrats got dental therapy passed. Democrats Senator Dave Bradley, Navarrete, and I voted with Republicans Senator Steve Montenegro and Barto to move this on to the Legislature in 2018. (Cobb, Lawrence, Lesko and Rep. Heather Carter voted no. Senator Katie Hobbs was absent.)

Why is this dental therapy fight important? Because expansion of dental care is both an access to care issue and a workforce development issue.

If the Legislature approves a dental therapy scope of practice in 2018, this will open up another career path for people who want to work in health care, it will give rural residents new opportunities to help their communities, and it will give dental hygienists an upward career path.

The dental therapy sunrise application was backed by 22 tribes, the community health centers, dental hygienists, public health advocates, and the Goldwater Institute. Goldwater pointed out that nationwide 23% of children have tooth decay. In Arizona, the average is 42%. Among Native American children, 75% have evidence of tooth decay. The current system is not working. For the dentists who are afraid they will lose business to dental therapists, I agree with the Goldwater Institute: dentists are losing more business to Mexico that they will to expansion of care with dental therapists.

The sunrise committee also passed voluntary certification for community health workers. This is another care-giving job description which will help the people of Arizona and will bring jobs across the state.

There was a recent survey by the Pima Council on Aging. It found that the fastest growing age groups in Pima County are over 80 and over 60! This underscores the need for more care-giver jobs in our workforce, but it also underscores the need for more good-paying jobs for our college graduates.

Progressives have our work cut out for ourselves…

Obviously, we have laws that perpetuate economic inequality, and there are forces at work who want to protect the status quo.

This is all the more reason to get money out of politics. We need politicians with independent votes. We need people who will work for the people—not for the big money donors.

I hope you will support my re-election campaign. If you live in LD9, please sign my petition here and donate $5 for Clean Elections here. If you don’t live in LD9 and want to support me, you can donate seed money via PayPal.

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