#AZLeg Must Raise 1980 Funding Cap for Schools (video)

Thursday, January 23, marked our first floor debate of the 2020 session of the Arizona House. We had Committee of the Whole (COW) for HCR2023, a bill to raise the Constitutional funding cap that was imposed upon schools districts in 1980.

We have to pass this bill in order to allow school districts to spend the money that we allocated to them. The 1980 funding cap formula is based on figures from the late 1970s. It is way out of date, obviously.

During the debate, Republicans tried to make the point that Legislators had to raise the spending cap because they have been so generous with the schools, and the schools are getting more money than ever.

The schools are getting “more money than ever” because we have more students in schools and more people in Arizona and because the schools were devastated by Republican budget cuts in the past decade.

Continue reading #AZLeg Must Raise 1980 Funding Cap for Schools (video)

Microsoft Wants a Sales Tax Break Because ‘Electricity Is Too Expensive in Arizona’ (video)

starve the schools. feed the rich (sarcasm)

Should the Arizona Legislature help Microsoft pay its APS bills?

Tuesday was a light day at the Capital. There was no floor action, but I had time to catch up with colleagues and sign some of their bills. I wanted to tell you about the conversation I had with two Microsoft lobbyists about the tax break that Microsoft wants.

You may remember my blog post on Powers For The People (back in December) about the tax review committee that I was on, due to my membership on the Ways and Means Committee. One of the income tax credits that we reviewed was for an Apple international data center to be built with renewable energy in Mesa. At the time, Apple was offered a TPT (sales tax) break also, but the committee reviewed only the income tax break.

The lobbyists were in my office because Microsoft wants the TPT tax break that was offered to Apple. I told them that I really don’t support tax giveaways to multinational corporations. Period. I don’t support any tax giveaways when ~68% of Arizona women aren’t getting first trimester prenatal care, and that is contributing to AHCCCS wasting $2-4 billion dollars on premature births (Not to mention the long-term health effects of prematurity.) When thousands of Arizona mothers and their children are living in poverty with food and housing insecurity, why would I prioritize a tax break for one of the most successful corporations in the US?

The lobbyist told me that the reason Microsoft needed a TPT tax break because “electricity is too expensive in the state of Arizona.” Microsoft doesn’t want to pay sales tax on electricity for this giant data center. International data centers take a use a lot of electricity because it is a building full of servers and cooled to ~65 degrees. This particular tax break is related to data centers built with renewable (solar) energy, which will already lower their energy cost significantly.

Continue reading Microsoft Wants a Sales Tax Break Because ‘Electricity Is Too Expensive in Arizona’ (video)

Democracy Now: Compelling Stories about Extreme Wealth & Extreme Poverty in California (video)

Safe Park Homeless camp 2015
Safe Park Dream Pod, Tucson 2015
Safe Park Dream Pods for Tucson homeless,  2015

Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now radio show has a long history of hard-hitting, investigative journalism. Today’s show (October 25) juxtaposed Progressive Congresswomen Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib grilling Facebook CEO with a story about homelessness in California.

These stories represent the two sides of California– a land of extreme wealth and innovation that also houses 50 percent of our country’s homeless population, according to Goodman.

Excerpted from “State of Emergency”: Special Report on California’s Criminalization of Growing Homeless Encampments

“In a Democracy Now! special report, we look at the rise in homelessness in many major cities across the United States. California has become the poster child for this economic and humanitarian disaster, with growing encampments in Los Angeles and the Bay Area as more people are forced onto the streets. The state is home to 12% of the country’s population but half of the country’s unsheltered people. As the crisis deepens, so has the criminalization of homelessness, with increasing efforts by city and state officials to crack down on unhoused people occupying public space. President Donald Trump made headlines this month for attacking California’s politicians over the homelessness crisis, threatening to destroy encampments, increase police enforcement and even jail unhoused people. But advocates say California has already employed hostile policies that criminalize homelessness, from laws against unsheltered people sitting on sidewalks to frequent sweeps of the encampments that have popped up on thoroughfares and under freeways across the state’s cities. One of these crackdowns is currently unfolding at a massive Oakland encampment that Democracy Now! visited just a few weeks ago.”

Watch the video and read the story here.

 

 

 

Community Support for Striking ASARCO/Grupo Mexico Workers Grows (video)

Asarco strike

More than 1700 members from eight labor unions are on strike against ASARCO and Grupo Mexico. These workers haven’t had a raise in 10 years. Under ASARCO/Grupo Mexico’s best and final offer some workers still wouldn’t get a raise, while others will be shortchanged due to rising health insurance costs.

The Pima Area Labor Federation (PALF) is hosting Resource Fairs and Town Halls for union brothers and sisters who are on strike on October 22 at the IBEW Hall, on October 24 at Pima Community College North, and on October 25 at Good Shepard United Church of Christ (Sahaurita). Striking workers can get information, food for their families, and other assistance.

Resource Fair… will be open from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. on October 22 and 24 but close at 4 p.m. on October 25.

Informational Meetings… will be from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. on October 22 and October 24. The event closes at 4 p.m. on Friday October 25.

Public Support for Strikers… People who want to support the strikers and their families can donate food, gift cards to union grocery stores (like Safeway or Fry’s), or cash through PALF. Nonparishable food donations can be dropped off the IBEW Hall, 570 N. Tucson Blvd.

Donations… You can donate checks or cash to help the strikers and their families by mailing or delivering your donation to the PALF Office at 877 S. Alvernon Way, Tucson 85711. Make checks payable to PALF Community Services.

Continue reading Community Support for Striking ASARCO/Grupo Mexico Workers Grows (video)

Maternal & Child Health: a Public Health Model for Social Justice (video)

NICU

A few weeks ago, I gave the guest reflection at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson on maternal and child health in Arizona. Below is the text of my talk or you can listen to the podcast here. I have been talking with people for months about this topic, and many of you have expressed an interest in working on solutions to improve maternal and child health. My plan is to hold stakeholder meetings on the state of Maternal and Child Health in Arizona, with the goal of crafting bills for the 2020 session. Stay tuned on the PowersForThePeople.net blog and on my Facebook page. I will be giving another talk on this topic at the Salt of the Earth Labor College on September 21, 2019.

Prevention: A Public Health Model for Social Justice (reflection text)

As the Public Health Parable in the Message for All Ages previewed, today, we are going to talk about prevention not only a public health strategy but also a social justice strategy.

Like the industrious carpenter in the video, we are going to assess the current problems, walk upstream to examine the root causes, and brainstorm long-term solutions to tackle those root causes.

Rather than focus solely on putting out fires today—as our government often does—the Public Health Parable teaches us to not only put out the current fire but also to devote significant effort to preventing those fires in the future.

My original idea for today was to discuss three unfolding public health crises: migration, housing security, and maternal and child health, but when I started to pull everything together, I realized we would be here all day if we tackled upstream solutions for those three, highly complex issues.

These three seem like disparate topics– migration, housing security, and maternal and child health—but they have commonalities.

Can you name some?  

[Pause for audience to shout out ideas.]

Poverty is a big factor in all of these, right?

But many of the “isms” are also involved: racism, sexism, classism, capitalism. And let’s not forget capitalism’s destructive cousins: war, austerity and bad policy.

How we tackle the unfolding crises of migration, housing security, and maternal and child health could have wide-ranging, positive OR negative repercussions on children, families, communities, future generations, and the climate.

Now we’re talking interconnectedness of all life, right?

Today, I want to focus on the area that has received the least amount of attention: maternal and child health. We hear a lot in the news about migration and housing, but there is a statewide and nationwide crisis in maternal and child health that is being ignored.

Continue reading Maternal & Child Health: a Public Health Model for Social Justice (video)

FY2020 Budget & #AZLeg Session Wrap-Up: What Just Happened? (video)

Arizona House

Drama, rumors, secrecy, backroom deals, coup attempts, flexible rules, and a bit of chaos are commonplace during the waning days of each session of the Arizona Legislature.  This is the atmosphere in which our state’s budget is crafted each year.

The First Session of the 54th Legislature ended in the wee hours of May 28, 2019. The new budget took effect on July 1, 2019. New laws that had “emergency clauses” are already in place. All other laws take effect 90 days after the end of the session, which is August 27, 2019.

Here is a peak behind the curtain during the last days of the session and some high and low points in the legislation that was passed.

The Game Plan

In 2019, secrecy and chaos reigned supreme as the Republicans desperately clung to their standard game plan: hear and pass primarily Republican-sponsored bills; ignore all Democratic ideas, bills and constituents; make enough pork barrel deals with their members to get 100% of them on one budget; and ram the budget through in the middle of the night when voters are asleep and Legislators want to be.

The Chaos

There was more chaos than usual in 2019 because a few Republicans realized that the slim D-R margins in both the Senate and the House gave each R a lot of power. (Rep. Kelly Townsend showed the Republican leadership her power back in March when she starting voting “no” on every bill one day. Here’s the blog post and video.)

The chaos was amplified by totally random floor schedules…

Continue reading FY2020 Budget & #AZLeg Session Wrap-Up: What Just Happened? (video)

Housing, Homelessness & Gentrification: What Is the Path Forward?

homelessness

Where do the mayoral candidates stand on affordable housing, low-income housing, and homelessness?

I think that’s a great question, and I hope to find the answers at the upcoming Mayor and Ward 1 City Council Candidate Forum on Saturday, June 22.  The event will be held at El Rio Center, from 12 noon – 2:30 p.m. and will moderated by Nancy Montoya from Arizona Public Media. According to the Blog for Arizona Calendar, the three Democrats running for Mayor and the four running for Romero’s Ward 1 seat are expected to participate.

What is the state of housing in Arizona?

Arizona’s Housing Crisis: Has the Legislature Done Its Part?

As rents and evictions increase, housing has become a huge issue across Arizona. Housing– like prison reform and charter school reform– got a lot of lip service in the Arizona Legislature in 2019. During the session, there were many opportunities to tackle the housing crisis in a meaningful way, but those bills died.

On a high note, the Legislature allocated $10 million for the Housing Trust Fund in the FY2020 budget, which begins in a few weeks. The Housing Trust Fund used to be $40 million per year until the Tea Party Reign of Terror swept the funds and left only ~$2.5 million in it. (Of course, back then, tax cuts were far more important than helping people keep roofs over their heads.)

Continue reading Housing, Homelessness & Gentrification: What Is the Path Forward?

UPDATED: Multiple Bills Look at Housing, Homelessness (video)

I published this original blog post and video on March 30, 2019– back when I thought the Arizona Legislature would take some serious steps toward solving the state’s housing crisis.

The original article focused on five housing-related bills that passed the Senate and passed through my committees (SB1471, SB1336, SB1539, SB1383, and SB1098) and on the issue of restoring full funding to the Housing Trust Fund.

Early last Tuesday morning, May 28, 2019, was sine die, the last day of the session. The Housing Trust Fund was not restored to full pre-recession funding ($40 million of designated funds from unclaimed property), but it did get $10 million. The only bill from the above list that made it to the Floor of the House was SB1539, but it was changed dramatically, which resulted in a party line vote.

I really regret the demise of SB1471 (help for homeless youth and families) and SB1383 (property tax assistance for widows and the elderly).  The community groups backing SB1471 came up with a procedure to collect capitol gains tax on sales of Arizona property by out-of-state sellers. The Legislature said “thanks for the collection idea”. That procedure was adopted and put into the budget, but the earmark for homeless youth and families was eliminated. (Grrr…) SB1383 is a Maricopa County only program that helps widows and the elderly pay their property taxes; I think it should be expanded to statewide to help these people age in place. Instead, it was no heard in House Appropriations or Rules.  On a bright note, the affordable housing tax credit bill– which would have costs the state over $90 million in the coming years– died again.

Continue reading UPDATED: Multiple Bills Look at Housing, Homelessness (video)

Why I Voted to Raise the #AZLeg Per Diem

[On Monday, May 27, the Arizona Legislature voted to raise the per diem compensation. This is my floor speech to explain my vote.]

When I decided to run for office in January 2016, I stepped down as managing editor of the American Journal of Medicine and became social media editor. With this step, I took a 60% pay cut. I knew I would be bringing in less money, but we thought it would all even out working two part-time jobs (with one of those part-time jobs being 24/7.)

When I was elected to the Arizona House, I didn’t realize how much I would have to pay out of pocket.

The Cost to Serve

Currently, Arizona Legislators are paid $24,000 with a $60 per diem for rural/out of Maricopa County folks and $35 per diem for Maricopa County legislators– for the first 120 days of session. The per diem drops to $20 and $10, respectively, after 120 days and during the interim.

Each year in the fall, I rent a small apartment for six months for $1000-1200 per month plus Internet, water, electric and fees. Since it is a six-month lease, there is an additional charge per month tacked on for that convenience. (Large corporate apartment complexes love to add fees– on-time payment fees if you use a debit card, late fees, recycling fees, pet fees, “association” fees, etc.) Pretty much my whole in-session per diem goes to housing.

In fact, this year when I applied to rent my apartment, I sent them my pay stub from the Legislature to the apartment complex’s management company. A few days later, they sent me a kind rejection notice saying that with a salary of $24,000, I didn’t qualify to rent a 400 square-foot studio apartment. I replied, “Don’t worry. I have a second job!” And sent them my pay stub from the journal.

Let that sink in. On my Legislative salary, I didn’t qualify to rent a tiny studio apartment in midtown Phoenix.

Continue reading Why I Voted to Raise the #AZLeg Per Diem

#AZ Republican Budget Cuts Taxes by $386 Mil & Shortchanges K-12 (video)

One of the prevailing messages from the grassroots in 2018 was: no more tax giveaways until the schools are fully funded. Republicans didn’t get that message. They also didn’t get the Invest In Ed message that we — the people– think the rich could pay more in taxes to help fund education.

The Republican budget cuts income taxes, TPT and fees by $386 million and leaves education and other needs underfunded (or unfunded).

We started the year with a $1 billion surplus to invest in the People’s To-Do List: education, infrastructure, healthcare and safety and security. The Republicans have added bits of money to these areas — just enough to make it look like they’re doing something— but the need is much greater.

Republicans are ignoring multiple crises that are brewing in our state including unnecessary maternal and child death; rock bottom education funding; crumbling roads, bridges and school buildings; lack affordable and low-income housing; the shortage of teachers, doctors and nurses; too many people living in poverty; lack of access to affordable healthcare… need I go on?

Continue reading #AZ Republican Budget Cuts Taxes by $386 Mil & Shortchanges K-12 (video)