Monday, January 13, 2020, was opening day at the Arizona Legislature.
Opening day is always fun and full of political drama because there are protests, press conferences with multiple Progressive groups (labor unions, Planned Parenthood, teachers, and others), the House and Senate Democratic Caucus Press Conference, and a big party with great food hosted by House Dems on the 3rd floor.
Southern Arizona unionists filled two buses to come to the Capitol on Monday. Striking ASARCO miners were out in force. Recently, I have been seeing these guys on the strike line down at the ASARCO Mission Unit, when I am wearing a T-shirt, boots and jeans. One of them did a double take when he saw me in a dress, stockings, short high heels, and my power pearls at the Legislature.
For years, Democrats in the Legislature have been calling for a review of the tax credits and the other tax giveaways. The goal of the review process is to recommend continuation, amendment or repeal of tax credits.
Decades of “business friendly” bipartisan votes in the Legislature to reduce income taxes and boost the economy have left us with $661 million in income tax credits claimed (AKA lost revenue) and more than $1.6 billion in unclaimed tax credits, ready to be cashed in, according to David Lujan, executive director of the Center for Economic Progress. This is not sustainable.
For the first time since 2014, the Joint Legislative Committee to Review Income Tax Credits met on Dec. 19, 2019. This was an historic day, and I was proud to be part of it.
According to statute, this committee is supposed to meet before the end of each calendar year and review tax credits that were passed in designated years. For this meeting, we reviewed tax credits that were passed in years ending in four and nine. We reviewed three tax credits that were recommended for elimination in 2014 (motion made by then Rep. J.D. Mesnard), but no action was taken by the Legislature to actually repeal them. Two of those– Healthy Forest Tax Credit and the Agriculture Pollution Control Tax Credit– were again recommended for elimination at 2019 meeting because they have been mostly unused for years. Income tax credits that are not used for more than four fiscal years are supposed to disappear, but somehow they hang around in the code, even Senator and Committee Chair J.D. Mesnard complained about this at the meeting. The majority voted to continue the other tax credits with additional performance measures attached in some cases. (For the recorded, I voted to repeal all of them. Read on and learn why.)
Voter suppression and unnecessary tinkering with elections have been themes in the Legislature this session.
SB1154 was defeated last week but passed the House today on reconsideration. This bill changes the primary date from the end of August to the beginning of August.
At first blush, this doesn’t seem to be a very big deal. Having the primary at the end of August makes it very close to the general election. Having the primary at the beginning of August gives candidates more time to win the general election l, but it could artificially suppress the primary vote, in my opinion.
If the primary is at the beginning of August, mailed ballots will go out around the Fourth of July. What do Arizonans like to do in July? Leave town! Also, the vast majority of college students will not be in town to vote in July/early August.
We should be facilitating voting — not pass laws that will make it more difficult for some groups.
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.)
That’s all folks! After the pledge, prayer. points of personal privilege (introductions) and a couple of proclamations, the Arizona House has adjourned until Wednesday. Why? Because Rep. David Stringer resigned due to the child sex charges, and the Republicans don’t have 31 members. The Republicans’ refusal to vote or even debate on anything without all 31 of their people in their chairs has really stalled progress this year.
We have done very little on the floor for the past two weeks. Heaven forbid that we would debate or vote on something that has bipartisan support but would pass with the majority of the Yes votes being Democratic.
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?)
Unlike many years, the Arizona Legislature will have money to spend when it convenes the 54th Legislative Session on opening day, January 14, 2019. We have an unexpected $900 million in one-time funding due to unexpectedly high sales tax returns and personal income tax returns.(Gosh, could the minimum wage have played a role in this?) We also have $200 million in the structural budget (money that should be available for three years).In addition, there’s tax conformity and review of the tax giveaways.
Since the 2018 Midterm Election, pundits have been judging the size and very existence of the predicted Blue Wave . To determine if the Blue Wave of newly elected Democrats was a tsunami or a just ripple, the media has focused primarily on Congressional and gubernatorial races–with little or no mention of state legislatures.
With voter turnout at 60%, there is no doubt that a Blue Wave washed over Arizona on Nov. 6, 2018. Democratic women won major victories: US Senate (Kyrsten Sinema), CD2 (Ann Kirkpatrick), Corporation Commission (Sandra Kennedy), Superintendent of Public Instruction (Kathy Hoffman), and Secretary of State (Katie Hobbs). The incumbent Republicans for three of these seats– Corporation Commission (Tom Forese), Superintendent of Public Instruction (Diane Douglas), and Secretary of State (Michelle Reagan)– all lost in the primary. Now, Democrats will hold those seats.
In the Arizona House, the Blue Wave was more of a tsunami. Seven Republican incumbents will not be returning to the Arizona Legislature in January 2019.
Last week in the Arizona Legislature was crossover week, which means bills passed by one house started to be heard by the other. The House began hearing Senate bills on Monday and vice versa. In advance of crossover week come two weeks of cramming as many bills into the pipeline as possible.
By mid-February, the House had passed the 200-bills-passed threshold and had two late nights during the week of February 20– 7 p.m. on Tuesday and 11:30 p.m. on Thursday (the deadline to hear House bills). If you want to hear some late-night speechifying, check out the debate on the Citizens Initiative— which the Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce want to kill and the Democrats defended. (When you go to the video, the agenda of the debate appears below, so you can scroll in to the sections you want to view.)
There have definitely been some themes so far in this session. Besides the push for fingerprinting citizens, the jabs at environmental protection, and the elimination of oversight and transparency by cutting all citizen review boards, the big theme has been giving away tax revenue (AKA, tax cuts, tax credits, tax subtraction, tuition waivers, economic development or trickle down economics).
Ironically, on many of these giveaway bills fiscally conservative Republicans (who don’t like spending money) and the fiscally conservative Progressives (who don’t want to give away tax revenue as long as the schools are underfunded) voted together. In the past two weeks, there have been maybe as many as 10 bills where some combination of Progressives and Conservatives voted against spending money that we don’t have.
Last week was action-packed in the Arizona Legislature. We returned to work on Monday– just a few days after immigration restrictions and the Muslim travel ban and related protests unfolded at airports (including Sky Harbor).
This week I was proud of the Democrats in the Legislature. I am particularly proud of my Sisters who are also first-time Legislators: Representatives Athena Salman, Isela Blanc, Kelli Butler, Winona Benally, Mitzi Epstein, and Kirsten Engel.
Yes, we’re the minority, but we’re a fiery bunch with a lot to say. Thirteen of the 25 Dems in the House are new, and several of the newbies are unabashedly Progressive (like me) or Progressive-leaning, depending upon the issue.
Often, the people who spoke truth to power this week included some or all of the women listed above. But don’t take my word for it. Watch the videos.
Jan 30:Democrats made statements about the Muslin travel ban.
Jan 31:Democrats spoke out against snake shot and rat shot in the city. (The vote broke along party lines.)
Feb 1:A lively debate ensues regarding states rights and Donald Tump’s executive orders. Unnecessary fingerprinting which could disproportionately affect the poor also debated.
Feb 2: We had our second gun rights debate– this time we discussed “smart guns”. Feb 2 was such a big day that there are eight videos. (Helpful hint: if you click on one here and look below the video feed, it will say which bills are debated in that clip.)
More action this week with a full calendar of votes. It’s TV worth watching; all of the meetings are live-streamed, videotaped, and archived. Archives are here. Live streaming link here.
Floor action begins daily at 1:30 p.m. Committee meetings are at 9 a.m. or 2 p.m. (or after Floor). Republican and Democratic Caucuses meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays. All of these meetings are Monday – Thursday, so out of town Legislators can be home on the weekends with family and constituents.