#AZLeg Should Focus on Food & Housing Security, Not Gambling & Tax Breaks (video)

Robert Reich

Many Arizonans lived with food, housing and financial insecurity before the pandemic hit.

The state of Arizona is doing fine financially — thanks to sales tax revenue (collected primarily from online sales) and pandemic relief from the federal government– but the Legislature is doing little to help those in need. People at the top and people in the middle, who still have their pre-pandemic jobs, are doing OK. The people at the bottom who had low wage jobs or multiple gig economy jobs before the pandemic are the ones who are really suffering during the pandemic. Some of those prolific pre-pandemic gig jobs like rideshare drivers, hotel staff and restaurant workers have almost disappeared. Many of those jobs won’t return because of changes to our lifestyles.

Although Arizona’s economic forecasters warned of the increasing wealth gap in Arizona, these people are being ignored by the Arizona Legislature. The Republican leadership is focusing on tax cuts for the rich people and corporations — rather than focusing in COVID relief or providing food, housing and financially security to struggling Arizona families. What are they offering to the poor to lift themselves out of poverty “by their bootstraps”? Dramatically increased gambling (HB2272). What could go wrong? [Sarcasm font.]

Continue reading #AZLeg Should Focus on Food & Housing Security, Not Gambling & Tax Breaks (video)

RTS Alert HB2391 & HB2255: Transparency in Government. Yes! (video)

World View Enterprises
Let’s talk government transparency.
Lucky for me my committees, so far, have not been totally nuts with radical right wing bills like some of the other committees this year. Yes, we have heard some tax giveaways in both Commerce and Ways and Means but not the extreme ideological social engineering and voter suppression bills that are in other committees.
The Feb.3 Ways and Means Committee agenda included only one bill HB2391, sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, one of the freshmen Republicans. This is a property tax and county government transparency bill from ATRA (Arizona Tax Research Association). Sean McCarthy from ATRA said that all of the counties report their property taxes in different ways. (Not surprising.) HB2391 says that the Department of Revenue (DOR) should design a “worksheet” for the counties to use worksheet and make the data available. I don’t think this goes far enough. I know many Tucsonans who are digging through PDFs and memos on governmental websites to try to determine how their taxes are being spent.
I agree with the push for governmental transparency and standardization in reporting, but I would take this a couple step further. I think these worksheets should be available on the county websites and on the DOR website in an easy-to-find location, and the data should be downloadable in Excel. This allows people — including data nerds, economists, grad students, and interested citizens — to look at the data and analyze it themselves. This is true transparency and accountability, in my opinion.
Many governmental websites are data rich and information poor. There are many numbers but very little context or explanation. For example, my bill HB 2255 is a transparency and accountability bill regarding the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA). I have done a lot of digging around in PDFs on the ACA website to determine the effectiveness of the business incentives that the ACA has been doling out.
When I had my communication and public relations business, writing and designing annual reports was my niche. In fact, most of the little plexiglass statues in my office at the capital are awards that I won for annual reports or other corporate communication documents or programs.
With this background, I am particularly critical of the ACA annual reports that are on their website. First of all, I had to search for “annual report” in order to even find the annual reports. There are lots of cute number graphics, but eventually I found a large PDF which was the actual annual report. Buried in the middle was the number of jobs that are created by the different incentive packages. There was a list of businesses that received big incentive packages (including Caterpillar and Worldview in Tucson) but no indication where these businesses are located. Are most of the business incentives spent in Maricopa County? Probably but it’s hard to tell. What is the long view of these incentives? How many of these businesses are still in business? Many of these businesses got their money years ago, but only one figure is given for job creation. Is that the current number of jobs? Is that the total number of jobs that were created over X number of years? Again you can’t tell from the annual report. Often in a corporate annual report there is historic data like a five-year review or a 10-year review to show growth or change over time. The 10 year review often includes analysis and a continued story from previous annual reports. I never found anything like that on the ACA website.

 

I want transparency in the corporate tax giveaways, how about you?

I am all for more governmental transparency. I think the Arizona Commerce Authority should be included in this push for more transparency and more accountability to the taxpayers of Arizona. If you are on RTS, please give both HB2391 and HB2255 a thumbs up.

[Photo: I took the above photo at a 2017 Chamber of Commerce event at the World View Enterprises headquarters. World View is one of the businesses that received money from the Arizona Commerce Authority and got a new building from Pima County. How much taxpayer money did World View get, and how many jobs did that incentive actually bring to Pima County? This is one of my many questions.]

 

 

RTS Alert HB2113: Seriously? Tax Cuts for the Rich? (video)

Rep. Pam Powers Hannley

On Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, in the committee of the whole, also known as COW, we debated HB 2113. This bill allows people to reduce their taxable income through charitable donations because it indexes the percent allowable to inflation. The current allowable amount is 25% of charitable donations (if you itemize your deductions, which almost no one does since the standard deduction was doubled.) At the current 25% rate, this tax cut, passed in 2019, took $24 million out of the general fund. This bill allows automatic annual inflation-based increases, with no sunset date, no cap, little accountability and “no guard rails”, as Rep. Mitzi Epstein pointed out in debate.

HB2113 is an income tax break for the richest Arizonans. You’ll remember that the Trump Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated many income tax deductions including the charitable deduction and at the same time doubled the standard deduction. This simplification of the tax code is something people have been clamoring for for years. Doubling the standard deduction is the primary reason why most Americans no longer itemize their taxes. To fund business tax cuts in TCJA, many individual tax deductions were eliminated and folded into the standard deduction.

In TCJA, the charitable tax deduction moratorium lasts for only five years. Epstein and I tried to add a sunset date to the Arizona charitable tax credit deduction to align it with the TCJA, but that amendment was defeated. With the 2019 bill and this 2021 bill, Arizona Republicans are not only cementing the charitable tax deduction for the wealthy, they are making it ever increasing by indexing it to inflation and not allowing it to ever decrease, regardless of the economy. That is a Sweetheart Deal!

Continue reading RTS Alert HB2113: Seriously? Tax Cuts for the Rich? (video)

Emergency Tourism Dollars Won’t Overcome #AZ’s Bad Reputation (video)

Arizona House
The Commerce Committee had a rousing debate over HB 2161 this week. It allows municipalities and counties to create multiple quasi-governmental taxing authorities (called marketing authorities) across the state.
The concept behind 2161 is that local governments can designate a specific geographic area to be within the marketing authority with the consent from 67% of the lodging establishments within the boundaries. Hotels and other lodging establishments inside the marketing authority would agree to add a bed tax (or in some cases an additional bed tax) to the per night room rate. Proceeds from the new tax from the multiple marketing authorities across the state would be sent to the Department of Revenue, who would process the new tax funds, and, in turn, return the bed tax money to the local governments who would funnel the money to the Board of Directors for the marketing authority and the local tourism bureau to be used for advertising the area. I am against this bill for multiple reasons:
  1. I don’t think the state should abdicate taxing authority to quasi-governmental authorities because they are not accountable to the taxpayers.
  2. This is a tax on consumers, but consumers will get no direct benefit (unless they want a housekeeping or wait staff job in the future).
  3. This bill creates more bureaucracy locally and at the state level. Proponents say this won’t cost the state any money. I disagree. It will enable creation of an unknown number of new taxing districts with different tax rates which all send funds to DOR for processing. DOR funnels the money back to local governments and to the local tourism bureaus to be used for advertising. That process is not free. It will obviously require significant personal time, new procedures, database augmentation for the new taxes, and more.
During the pandemic, there have been multiple news stories about states (like Arizona) and countries (like Italy and Spain) that have lost significant revenue during the pandemic because they have historically relied upon tourism and fees levied on tourists as primary sources of income. The travel and tourism industry — along with conventions and air travel — have been hard hit by COVID. Conventions, concerts, music festivals and other big events have been canceled. Besides canceled events, people aren’t traveling for multiple reasons: they are sick; a family member or friend is sick or has died of COVID; they’re afraid they or family members will become sick or die; they’re afraid to be in enclosed, non-social-distancing spaces, including airplanes, trains or abuses; they’re afraid to spend the night in a motel room or go in public restroom; they don’t trust the government to keep them safe (obviously a good reason with 400,000+ dead); or they are at high risk for COVID and don’t go anywhere.
Also … let’s not forget the biggest reasons why tourists and conventioneers might choose to go elsewhere. Arizona has a habit of creating negative press for itself. For example:
  1. Arizona has bungled the pandemic. Arizona has been a COVID hot spot for weeks and has been intermittently worst in the nation multiple times in the past year.
  2. Since the Jan. 6 US Capitol Insurrection, Arizona is also known as the home of the infamous organic-food-loving Q Shaman and multiple insurrectionist elected officials.
  3. The Arizona Legislature continues to waste time on inappropriate and radical legislation such as Rep. Walt Blackman’s “homicide by abortion” bill (HB2650) and Rep. Shawnna Bolick’s HB2720 which creates layers of unnecessary bureaucracy, has voter privacy concerns, and hands the presidential election decision to the Arizona Legislature. (What could go wrong?)
  4. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show dubbed Arizona is the “Meth Lab of Democracy”. This references the founding fathers’ idea that the states would be “laboratories for a democracy” and would test new ideas. If enough states adopted those novel ideas, the federal government would adopt them for all states. As the Meth Lab of Democracy, Arizona is known for our racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-science laws.
Not a good look.
All of the slick ads about cowboys, sunsets, warm weather, and the Grand Canyon will not overcome our bad reputation. The goal of the marketing authorities is to bolster the tourism industry and subsequently the state’s economy. Arizona has a lot of self-inflicted marketing wounds that we have to overcome before people are going to come here post Covid.
The tourism industry needs to rethink itself for the post Covid world. Travel, tourism, conventions and air travel will not be the same as they were before. The sooner we realize that and start innovating and planning for it, the better off we will be. We should cast aside the old paradigms.
If you are on RTS, vote “no” on HB2161, HB2650, and HB2720. Let’s focus on helping Arizona’s survive the pandemic physically and financially. That should be our first priority in the legislature.

#AZLeg Should Focus on COVID, Not Tax Breaks

Republicans thanks for the poverty

This is an RTS Alert for HB2244, 2253, and 2252 and HCR2010 …

This is the third week of the Arizona Legislature. It is also the second full week of committees. I am the ranking member on the Commerce Committee and a member of Ways and Means. (I am not on the Health Committee this session.) My updates for the next two years are going to be pretty much about money, incentives, taxes, and tax giveaways.

So far, none of the bills heard in either of my committees help the people of Arizona or local small businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic. The Legislature needs to focus on the pandemic — instead of marching in lock step to pass 100s of bad (or at least unnecessary) bills from 2020 that COVID killed.

A recent poll revealed that Arizonans’ biggest concern is *surviving the pandemic*. Arizonans’ priority is to get through the pandemic alive … with their family members. They also don’t want to be broke and homeless at the end of this. The poll also revealed that their biggest fear was that government would do nothing, and they want to make sure corporations pay their fair share. Arizona had widespread poverty, housing insecurity, food insecurity, and access to care issues long before the pandemic. I suggest my bills to fix systemic problems in Arizona would also help people weather the pandemic storm.

For example, HB2244 would fully fund the housing trust fund which has not been adequately funded for ~10 years; HB2253 would increase Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) to the full five years allowed by the federal government; HB2252 would increase Arizona’s TANF from 36% of the 1992 poverty level to 40% of the 2020 poverty level; and HCR2010 would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (giving women equal pay for equal work). I also have multiple bills to increase the healthcare workforce and increase access to care particularly in maternal and child health.

I have attended multiple financial forecasting and review meetings in the past year. Thanks to all of that online purchasing, Arizona is raking in the sales tax. Some people at the state level are giddy with the amount of sales tax revenue we have brought in during the pandemic. They are also very excited about the generosity from the federal government. Unfortunately, the governor and others in the Republican Party are using these unexpected funds as an excuse to cut taxes. Why don’t we use these funds to build financial stability, increase access to care and help the people of Arizona stay safe and healthy during the pandemic — instead of giving our tax dollars away to corporations and Arizona’s 1%?

Please be vigilant. There are many people up here who are determined to keep the inequities of our system.

Please give HB2253, HB2252, HB2244, and HCR2010 a thumbs up on RTS. Also, give tax breaks (HB2108 and HB2113) and additional, unnecessary governmental bureaucracy and fees (HB2161) a thumbs down.

Child Poverty Report Reveals Failure of #Republican Leadership in #AZLeg to Care for Children (video)

Rep. Pam Powers Hannley

Nationwide and statewide, far too many women and their children are living in poverty. Those of you who follow my Legislative Updates and videos know that I have been beating the drum for improved maternal and child health and for tackling Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) like food, housing, and financial insecurity. During the pre-COVID19 pandemic, Arizona was #50 — worst in the country — for Adverse Childhood Experiences.

The Children’s Action Alliance (CAA), a watchdog group that lobbies the Legislature on behalf of children, recently published their 2020 Kids Count Book with data regarding the well-being of Arizona’s children. You can read the data book here. CAA also collects survey responses from candidates and electeds who are running for the Legislature. You can read the responses here.

To read more about the data book, check out David Gordon’s story in Blog for Arizona: Child Poverty and Food Insecurity are Major Concerns as the CAA releases the 2020 Arizona Kids Count Book.

Continue reading Child Poverty Report Reveals Failure of #Republican Leadership in #AZLeg to Care for Children (video)