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)

What’s the News on the #AZ Budget? Check Out Video & Town Hall

Many constituents have asked me where the budget is and what’s going on– after all, it is May. On the budget, the status quo of the past month still exists. All of the budget action continues to be behind closed doors, among a closed group of Republicans.

In addition to the Democrats, there are a significant number of House Republicans who are not part of the budget process, and they’re grumbling about it. This is a state budget– not the budget for a small town church. The deacons and the pastor don’t get to decide the budget on their own in the back room. The budget should be negotiated with all parties at the table– not just a handful of those close to power. Democrats make up 48 percent of the Arizona House. When more than 50 percent of the Legislature is kept in the dark and has to rely on rumors, that is not a fair process, and it ultimately hurts the people of Arizona.

Except for the Governor’s budget, which has been public for months, and some leaked details about the Senate Republican budget, little is known about the budget, beyond a few trial balloons. What we do know is that the Senate Republican budget is far more conservative and not even close to Governor Doug Ducey’s budget.

This chasm in the GOP has left an opening for Democrats. The House Democrats will unveil our balanced budget ideas on Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m.  We have been saying since January that we agreed with parts of the governor’s budget– like full tax conformity and more money for P-20 education. [Stay tuned for details.]

On the right, Senator J.D. Mesnard and other tax cut fans still want to zero-out the money the state could bring in from tax conformity (~$150 million) and Wayfair (~$85 million). There are multiple trial balloons about making the income tax rates flatter. One proposal is to have only two personal income tax brackets. This is a horrible idea– unless, of course, your goal is to return to austerity and Draconian budget cuts, while making your rich donors happy. Under the Republican proposals to eliminate or lower tax brackets, rich people would pay less, and the rest of us could pay more. (Think of the Republican tax bracket plan as Arizona’s mini-Me to the Trump Tax Cut and Jobs Act. Both significantly lower taxes for the wealthy by reducing the top tax rate.)

Continue reading What’s the News on the #AZ Budget? Check Out Video & Town Hall

With ‘Wayfair’ Bill Stalled, Will Republicans Stop New Revenue Streams? (Video)

The budget is still being negotiated behind closed doors. The Republicans have passed several tax cut bills, but not all of them have been heard in Committee of the Whole (COW, where the real debates happen).

We also have not heard the “Wayfair Bill” in COW because it is stalled in House Rules (with several other bills). HB2702 passed House Ways and Means unanimously several weeks ago but never got to the Floor for debate or a vote.

South Dakota vs Wayfair Inc. is the supreme court case that said states can charge sales tax on online sales. States, local governments, and brick and mortar businesses have been losing trillions of dollars to online retailers. Just look around town, and you will see fewer local businesses, less stock on the shelves, and many vacant store fronts. Taxing in-person purchases but not online purchases is unfair to local small businesses, hurts our local economy, reduces the General Fund (thus reducing education funding), and ultimately reduces consumer choice.

Arizona residents made $1.7 trillion worth of online purchases in 2018. That is how much Arizona businesses lost in sales. On those purchases, the state lost $85 million in sales tax (TPT). Cities and counties lost more than $45 million. Prop 301 (the education sales tax) lost $10.2 million.

Continue reading With ‘Wayfair’ Bill Stalled, Will Republicans Stop New Revenue Streams? (Video)

‘Democracy in Chains’ Connects Dots on Libertarian & Republican Strategies (video)

Affordable Care Act

If you often scratch your head at the bad bills that the Republicans pass in Congress and in the state legislatures and wonder what their end game is, you should read Democracy in Chains by Nancy McClean.

What you may think are random bad ideas that have somehow gotten into law are actually part of a grand scheme that has been playing out since Brown versus the Board of Education attempted to desegregate public schools in the United States.

An academic, McClean has studied the articles, books and letters of James Buchanan, the economist not the former president. Buchanan was the primary theorist of public choice theory. In the 1950s, public choice theory was used as a rationale to close all of the public schools in the state of Virginia (rather than comply with desegregation) and is being used today to support state-funded vouchers for private and religious schools. In Virginia in the 1950s, the state gave money to white parents for private school vouchers and allowed hundreds of black children to go uneducated for years. Needless to say, this was a travesty of justice.

Continue reading ‘Democracy in Chains’ Connects Dots on Libertarian & Republican Strategies (video)

#AZ House Republicans Pass $7.25/hour Minimum Wage for Students (video)

The worst vote of the 54th session has to be the Republican passage of the sub-minimum wage on Thursday. Rep. Travis Grantham’s HB2523 would allow employers to pay full time students, who work part time and are under 22, the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, instead of the voter-approved minimum wage of $11/hour.

Republicans and Democrats debated HB2523 for more than one hour the day before during Committee of the Whole (COW) and again when we explained our votes on Thursday. It passed on a strictly party line vote.

After mulling over the speeches from both sides of the aisle, I think there are some of the Republicans who truly believe paying $7.25/hour to full-time students is good idea. I wonder how many of them own restaurants, farms, retail stores, or other small businesses that would benefit from cheaper labor. Hmmm…

This vote needed 3/4 on HB2523 because it is an attempt to change the voter-approved Prop 206 Citizens Initiative that raised the minimum wage in 2016. During the COW debate, I proposed an amendment to add a Prop 105 vote to HB2523, but Republicans said it was not necessary. (The Rules Attorneys said it was necessary. Who are you going to believe?)

Continue reading #AZ House Republicans Pass $7.25/hour Minimum Wage for Students (video)

John Nichols of ‘The Nation’ Returns to Tucson (video)

John Nichols

For many years, author and historian John Nichols has been coming to Tucson for the Festival of Books. In addition to his popular appearances at the Book Festival, Nichols has a tradition of speaking on Saturday evening at a free event hosted by Progressive Democrats of American (PDA Tucson) and the Pima Area Labor Federation (PALF).

2019 is no exception. Nichols will appear at the IBEW Hall on Saturday, March 2, with doors open at 6 p.m. and the event beginning at 6:30 p.m. Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley will warm up the crowd with local political news from the Arizona Legislature. Powers Hannley was recently named “most valuable state Legislator” by The Nation magazine.

Nichols is a consummate storyteller and political historian. He writes for The Nation and is a frequent commentator on MSNBC and Democracy Now. He is the author of Uprising, Dollarocarcy, and more recently Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guid to the Most Dangerous People in America.

If you have never heard Nichols speak, I urge you to take advantage of this free event– away from the crowds and parking hassles of the University of Arizona. Here are a few video clips from past years. The 2019 event is sponsored by PDA Tucson, PALF, and Our Revolution- Arizona for Bernie Sanders. Facebook event here.

Continue reading John Nichols of ‘The Nation’ Returns to Tucson (video)