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.

Multiple Bills Look at Housing, Homelessness (original post and video)

Homelessness, transitional housing, low-income housing and affordable housing are obviously big problems in the state of Arizona. Currently, the Arizona House is considering a mixed bag of bills that tackle different parts of the housing problem.

Today’s video focuses on SB1471 which provides a creative funding mechanism to put up to $10 million per year in the Housing Trust Fund for homeless youth and families. There are no federal HUD funds for this population.

SB1471 sets up a process for the state of Arizona to collect capital gains taxes on sales of Arizona property owned by out of state individuals. Apparently, compliance with capital gains taxes owed by out-of-state investors is less than 30%. This bill is projected to make around $8 million of year and could go higher. If more than $10 million is collected, the excess goes into the general fund.

We heard SB1471 in Ways and Means this week, and several other housing bills related to the seriously mentally ill (SB1336), AHCCCS members, youth (SB1539), widows and the elderly (SB1383), and other vulnerable populations (SB1098) passed out of the House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously. (I am on both of these committees.)

Why is there so much need? Because the Republicans have repeatedly swept the Housing Trust Fund since the dark reign of the Tea Party began in 2011.

All of the housing bills passed out of the Senate and out of the House committees. Will they make it into law? I hope so. (There is one caveat to this hopeful housing post. A housing tax credit bill, which passed out of House Ways and Means but died, has been revived in the Senate as a striker.  Affordable housing tax credit bills sound good but cost the state tens of millions of dollars over time. Direct help to people is easier and more cost effective.)

Are we done? No.

Instead of a scatter shot approach of random bills to tackle housing and homelessness, what we need is a comprehensive approach, with adequate funding to make a difference.

#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)

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.

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)

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)

In #AZ, Maternal & Child Health Is in Crisis (video)

Maternal and child health is in crisis in the state of Arizona. Too many infants die. Too many new

Maternal and child health is in crisis in the state of Arizona. Too many babies die. Too many new Moms die. Too many babies are born prematurely. Too many babies are born with birth defects. Too many pregnant women don’t get adequate prenatal care.

Some Arizona counties have been labeled maternal health deserts because of lack of medical care. Cochise, Graham, Gila, La Paz, Santa Cruz and Yuma are the worst off. Around 50% of the babies born in Arizona are born to unwed mothers (which makes them more likely to live in poverty with their Moms.) And around 50% of the live births are funded by AHCCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid program).

Arizona’s lack of attention to maternal and child health and our stingy social safety net policies have exacerbated the situation and cost the state lives and money. Each premature baby born under AHCCCS costs the state around $1 million. How many of these one-million-dollar babies are accidents due to lack of access to affordable birth control and the scarcity of women’s health clinics, particularly in rural Arizona? We should be funding women’s health and well baby clinics in rural Arizona and should be hiring community health workers to do outreach with pregnant women and new Moms. You can hire an army of community health workers for the cost of one or two premature babies.

Continue reading In #AZ, Maternal & Child Health Is in Crisis (video)

#AZHouse Democrats Force Vote on #ERA

ERA vote in Arizona House

For the third year in a row, Arizona House Democrats forced a debate and a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). On April 16, I made an “emergency motion” to skip over First, Second and Third Readings of HCR2030 and bring the ERA up for an immediate vote. Predictably, the Republicans offered as substitute motion which led to two hours of rousing debate on women’s equality.

The Back Story

Earlier in the session– when the Democrats still believed that at least a few Republicans may have a tiny independent streak– Senator Victoria Steele and I both garnered signatures from a handful of Republicans and all of the Democrats for ratification of the ERA. Steele had the votes to pass it in the Senate, but  Judiciary Chair Eddie Farnsworth refused to hear the ERA in committee, and President Karen Fann stopped a real floor vote.

Arizona Senate debated, but since there was no floor vote– only a division call– the Republicans weren’t held accountable for their stance against equal rights for women. None of the Republicans who had signed Steele’s bill stood up for the ERA or spoke in favor of it.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley calling for a vote on HCR2030, ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Pre-Game Action

Fast forward to yesterday. The House didn’t hear the ERA on the same day as the Senate because the plan was to propose the ERA in the House on a different day… unannounced. A stealthy surprise for the House Leadership. The Republicans don’t like it when the Dems surprise them with parliamentary procedures and force votes on bills they thought they had killed with parliamentary procedures. Their intransigence is the catalyst for our shenanigans.

Several weeks ago, I met with Speaker Rusty Bowers about the ERA and asked him to assign HCR2030 to a committee that would hear it. Every year, the Democrats and ERA supporters ask for a real committee hearing, a real floor debate in Committee of the Whole, and a Third Read vote on the ERA. Every year, the Republicans use “horse and buggy procedures” to stall any meaningful progress.

At the time of our meeting, the ERA had not even gone through the First Read– the very first step in the legislative process. He told me in no uncertain terms that he had “no intention” of doing anything to move the ERA forward. Initially, he declined to tell me why and said he wanted to “explain his position in a larger forum.” I pushed for a reason, and he talked about his wife and daughter and how it would negatively impact them. He also talked about more lawsuits as a result of passage of the ERA. I told him that the ERA focuses on government-based discrimination. If the ERA is passed and if the state of Arizona has discriminatory laws on the book, then, yes, the state could be sued, but the real issues are equal pay for equal work, equal protection under the Constitution, and structural sexism in our country.

Continue reading #AZHouse Democrats Force Vote on #ERA

#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)