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)

#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)

#StopTheBans Pro-Choice Rallies Draw 100s in #AZ (video)

Across the nation today, men and women were protesting stringent anti-abortion bills that have passed in at least eight states recently. There was an impressive rally with close to 200 people at the Capitol today in Phoenix and even more in Tucson.

Alabama’s bill is the most recent and the most stringent. It is essentially an all out ban on abortion because it does not exclude women who have been raped or who have been the victims of incest. It also criminalizes doctors. They can be charged with a felony for conducting an abortion.

Six states including Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio have passed heartbeat bills. This means that an abortion cannot be conducted after a heartbeat has been detected. This can be as early as 6 to 8 weeks. Often women don’t even know they’re pregnant by then. Utah and Arkansas ban abortions after the middle of the second trimester.

Some states, like Arizona, still have abortion bans that pre-date Roe v Wade on the books. If one of these 2019 right-wing bills gets to the Supreme Court and results in over-turning Roe, it is unclear what will happen, but Arizona’s law could go into effect.

I was in college at Ohio State, when Roe v Wade passed the Supreme Court. I remember what life was like for young women in the time before abortion was legal and when access to contraception was limited. Everybody was on the “Rhythm Method”, and everybody in the dorm knew if somebody was “late.” I knew at least a half a dozen women in the dorm who were driven to New York for abortions. I knew a guy who got three women pregnant and drove them all to New York City. (You’d think he could figure out that he was part of the problem!) When abortions became legalized in Detroit, my boyfriend and I gave his younger sister a ride to Detroit.

To get birth control pills, I had to take a 1.5 hour bus ride from campus to the Planned Parenthood Clinic in ghetto on the near East Side. The clinic was in a dingy storefront. The waiting room was filled primarily with African-American women and children who lived in the neighborhood nearby plus a handful of white college girls like me.

Check out this article about Romania’s 20-year experiment with a total abortion ban. It turned into a public health disaster. More than 10,000 women died unnecessarily. Many children with birth defects were born. The state set up huge orphanages for children whose parents couldn’t take care of them, including many with severe disabilities. Romania tried this because they wanted to boost the birth rate. The birth rate almost doubled initially, until women figured out how to get around the band. Rich women could get abortions; most of the burden of this law fell upon middle class and poor women, who didn’t have the money or connections to get abortions.

If people really want to reduce the number of abortions, we should make contraception and the morning after pill cheap or free, and we should teach medically accurate sex education in the schools. They are not protecting the lives of the unborn. They are protecting the patriarchy. In Arizona, pious, pro-life Republicans are fighting hard to protect child predators— rather than supporting the victims of child sexual abuse.

If Arizona were truly a “pro-life” state, we wouldn’t force thousands of Moms and their children to live in poverty. We would provide food security, housing security, financial security and a quality public education system.

We can’t be complacent. We have to push back and protect our rights.

Coincidence? ‘Charter School Week’ Is the Same as Brown vs Bd of Ed Anniversary (video)

Arizona House Republicans stand for charter school proclamation.

Is it a coincidence that Charter School Week is the same week as the landmark Supreme Court Decision Brown vs the Board of Education?

If you have read “Democracy in Chains,” you know the links between the Brown decision, Southern pushback against desegregation, taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, racial disparities across school districts, and the rise of the “public choice” movement in education.

The popularity of customized charter schools and tax-funded vouchers for private education — and the related budget cuts to public education — have led to white flight from public schools and increased segregation in our schools overall. Charter schools that cherry pick high-performing students and weed out others exacerbate the equity problems.

Arizona has been shortchanging it’s children for too long. We have been marching backwards. It’s time to shift gears and go forward by fully funding public education.

#AZLeg Hears Competing Bills on Vaping (video)

Vaping is a hot topic in the Arizona Legislature this session. E-cigarettes (also known as nicotine vape pens) are unregulated in Arizona. Nicotine vaping is widespread, and usage is increasing, particularly among youth.

Many adults use nicotine vape pens as a way to stop smoking real cigarettes. E-cigarettes don’t have the particulates that tobacco cigarettes do, but that doesn’t mean they are safe.

We have had two competing vaping bills in the Legislature. SB1147 is a tobacco industry bill that carves out vaping and regulates it separately in the Arizona statutes; it also preempts local laws. HB2357 regulates “any product derived from tobacco or containing nicotine” the same.

Back in the 1990s, when e-cigarettes first came to the US, tobacco control researchers at the UA and elsewhere said that e-cigarettes were “drug delivery devices” that should be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The tobacco industry fought this and said e-cigarettes were tobacco and should be regulated like tobacco. They won their court case at the national level, and e-cigarettes have been regulated like tobacco since then.

HB2357 is aligned with the federal law. SB1147 puts vaping into its own category— not a tobacco product or a nicotine delivery device.

Public health advocates are backing HB2357, and so am I.

For more background about these two bills, check out this story in the Capitol Times.

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

#AZ House Debates, Passes Association Health Plans SB1085 (video)

Although we had a short floor calendar on May 1, we had some rousing debates. The highlight was a two-hour debate on SB1085, association health plans. (Watch the action here, beginning at 19:32 min.)

The Republicans have had three bills this year to lower healthcare insurance costs by encouraging people to leave the healthcare marketplace. I agree that the Affordable Care Act is too expensive, particularly for sole proprietors (like my husband who was offered a silver ACA plan for more than $1000 per month just for him.) This is why I voted for direct care contracts. I believe those are a better deal for sole proprietors than association health plans.)

Democrats debated valiantly, led by Health and Human Services Ranking Member Rep. Kelli Butler (right). Here, she does Q&A with Rep. Isela Blanc.

I get that costs are too high, but the association health plans are not the way to go. They could, indeed, lower costs for business owners, but they could be risky due to limited coverage. There are reasons why these plans will likely be cheaper. Remember the old adage “you get what you pay for”. If sole proprietor business owners want to take a risk with their own insurance and their own health, I have a mind to let them take their own risk. (Just don’t ask me to help you later with a Go Fund Me Request if it turns out I was right on limited coverage under cheap junk insurance plans.)

Where I object is when businesses are making these risky insurance decisions for their employees— just to save money.

Continue reading #AZ House Debates, Passes Association Health Plans SB1085 (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)

Direct Care Contracts: Cheap Non-Insurance Plans Could Put Patients at Risk (video)

Banner University Medical Center

In the Health and Human Services Committee, we have heard a few different insurance plans that would be cheaper and less comprehensive alternatives to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

With SB1105, healthcare moves into the gig economy. SB1105 covers direct primary care agreements, a non-insurance alternative to the ACA.  In Arizona, people are already allowed to make one-on-one contracts with a healthcare provider for certain services for a designated mount of money per month.

This bill clarifies existing law and says that these contracts are not insurance and, therefore, not regulated by the Arizona Department of insurance. It also says that you can have contracts with doctors, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, dentists, and physical therapists.

If you take this to it’s illogical extreme, you could have multiple contracts with different providers for different menus of services. Unless you are really good at contract law, you could end up having several contracts, paying monthly bills to each of these providers and still not getting the care that you need. Since these plans are not insurance, you would not be able to take your complaints to a bureaucrat at an insurance company or at the Department of Insurance.

Direct current primary care agreements are supposed to fill a niche in the healthcare market. The ACA is too expensive, particularly for sole proprietors. These are business people who are their business. Professional people, consultants, artists and musicians could all be sole proprietors.

Continue reading Direct Care Contracts: Cheap Non-Insurance Plans Could Put Patients at Risk (video)