Do you remember the controversy surrounding redevelopment of the Ronstadt Transit Center? Back in 2013-2014, developers were making a play to redevelopment the Ronstadt Transit Center. They had pitched redevelopment of the Ronstadt in the past and failed; the 2013-14 plans revolved around building something on top of the Ronstadt. I mention this ancient history because the Ronstadt redevelopment project– which I mistakenly thought had died a silent death– popped up at a recent Mayor and Council candidate forum as a good idea. Now I realize that demolition of the Ronstadt Transit Center is on the horizon– along with construction of more luxury apartments and yet another “boutique hotel.” Groan. Why are we doing this? Why are we destroying our sense of place and community on Congress Street and 4th Ave. in exchange for big boxy buildings?
Old timers like me remember the original design and intent of the Ronstadt Transit Center as not only a transit hub to bring people in and out of downtown but also a community gathering space. In fact, I often wrote about and photographed downtown when I had my writing, photography, and design business in the 1980s and later in the 2000s as a downtown artist. In addition to writing for Dateline Downtown, a weekly downtown newspaper, the Tucson Arts District Partnership was one of my clients. In the 2000s, as Wind Dancer Design, I was a member of Central Arts Gallery, one of the former on Congress Street galleries that were replaced by restaurants and bars.
The low brick walls were designed as benches and gathering spaces around the Ronstadt Center. The rustic brick, custom decorative tiles, and the large decorative brick patio area (with bricks from the Ronstadt Hardware Store, that once stood there) gave the design a sense if place and purpose. Form + function makes for good design. The patio, which had tables at one point, was designed for people to sit while they waited for the bus or had sandwich from one of the restaurants or a food cart set up on the patio.
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.)
Tax conformity with the Trump tax plan which was passed by Congress in December 2017 has been loping along in the Arizona Legislature … until today. This morning, the former Speaker and current Senator JD Mesnard did a presentation on what he wants us to pass for tax conformity. He has been quoted in the newspaper as saying that he wants tax conformity to be “revenue neutral”.
If Arizona decides to do full tax conformity, as Governor Ducey has suggested, Arizona will gain an estimated $150-$200 million per year extra for the general fund. If we do revenue neutral tax conformity as Mesnard has suggested, we will throw that extra $150-200 million revenue out the window by offering tax cuts along with tax conformity.
The December 2017 Trump tax plan raised the standard deduction and eliminated some itemized deductions. If you make less than a six-figure salary and you don’t itemize your taxes, you will be better off with tax conformity.
In order to ram these bills through the committees, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee have been rescheduled for Monday, January 28 at 10 AM. This is not the regular meeting time. We are required to vote on HB2522 and SB1143 simultaneously.
These bills were placed on agendas late today. If you are on Request to Speak (RTS), you have until Monday morning to voice your opinion. If you believe that Arizona should say “NO!” to more tax cuts and should use the money to cover state needs (or prop up the rainy day fund in the event of a Wall Street downturn), you want clean tax conformity— NOT revenue-neutral tax conformity as HB2522 and SB1143 propose. All hands on deck.
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission (CCEC) organizes and hosts debates for all elections in which at least one Clean Elections candidate is running. In Legislative District 9, three of the five people running for office are Clean candidates: Jim Love, Victoria Steele and me. The other two people who are running for house– Rep. Randy Friese and J.P. Martin– are running traditional.
Since early ballots for the August 28 primary election will be mailed on August 1, the CCEC has been hosting many debates in the past month. On July 19, the LD9 candidates had their debate. (The LD9 video link is here and the embedded video is below. To watch other CCEC debates go here.)
CCEC debates include some questions that are asked of all candidates and other questions that are asked of specific people. I have annotated the debate with time stamps– in case you want to focus on particular topics. Since there were several audience questions about guns in schools, the environment and prison reform, I have grouped those questions and answers.
Today’s video topic is tax giveaways. Do tax breaks for developers, sports teams and big corporations really spur economic development? In Arizona’s 53rd Legislative Session there was a growing bipartisan backlash against tax giveaways (including tax exemptions, tax cuts and tax credits). Many tax giveaway deals died like the capital gains tax cut and the tax exemption for digital goods purchases in 2018 and several corporate welfare bills in 2017.
After all, Arizona state government is giving away or otherwise excusing more than $13 billion in taxes each year and saving only about $10 billion to run the state. The teacher raise was accomplished through 50 fund transfers from one department to another, plus several efficiency savings which transfer programs to other funding sources outside of the general fund. That is no way to run a government.
I stand against the tax giveaways and with #RedForEd. If we ever want to fully fund public education, we have to stop cutting taxes and stop giving tax revenue away.
For this reason, I am a Rio Nuevo skeptic. Rio Nuevo is a $14 million sales tax giveaway that passed in 2018 and was extended to 2035. Rio Nuevo is a tax increment financing district (tif). If you look on the Internet, the jury is out regarding how well tifs work or if they are a good investment of public funds. I have several unanswered questions about Rio Nuevo. What is the total taxpayer investment in each Rio Nuevo project (ie, Rio Nuevo funds, city sales tax rebate, free land, city GPLET deal, Arizona Commerce Authority, and federal incentives)?
On December 4, 2017, I gave a talk on economic inequality at the Democrats of Greater Tucson Luncheon. This is the text of that speech.
Economist Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, recently gave a talk which focused on solving economic inequality. He pointed to five key areas of the economy that keep the rich rich and keep the rest of us in our places:
Intellectual property rights;
Practice protection by highly paid professionals;
Financial regulation; and
Given this list, can a state legislator like me make a dent in economic inequality? I think so.
I ran on a platform that focused on economic reform and public banking; equality and paycheck fairness; and attacking the opioid crisis.
How does my platform dovetail with Dean Baker’s list? There is quite a bit of overlap—particularly in macroeconomics, intellectual property rights, and practice protection.
In 2016, I ran for the Arizona House on a platform of economic reform, equality, and tackling the opioid epidemic. I stood up to big-money politics and ran as a Clean Elections candidate, despite much advice to take the money and run.
I am running for re-election in 2018. As a Clean Elections candidate, I have pledged not to take big-money donations from special interests. This is my report card to you, the voters of Legislative District 9. It has been an honor to serve you.
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.
Since Dec. 1, newly elected members of the Arizona House have received a whirlwind of invitations for meetings, trainings, luncheons, dinners, tours, coffees, workshops, receptions, BBQs, caucus meetings, briefings, orientations– and more. For half of December, I was out of Tucson — with multiple trips to Phoenix and a field trip to Yuma. On the street, supporters ask me when I start working. Even though the inauguration isn’t until next week, I have been working for weeks as your “representative-elect”.
Instead of publishing a lengthy article on “how I spent my Christmas vacation”, I’m breaking up my December tales into five parts: meetings (not as boring as it sounds), the ADEQ field trip to a defunct gas station, and three segments about the Yuma agricultural tour (92,000 cows, lettuce and birds, and migrant farm workers).
Here is the first installment in the five-part series.
New House Member Orientation
Most of the 23 new Republican and Democratic members of the Arizona House attended an orientation at the Capitol in the beginning of December. We comprise one of the largest (if not the largest) Freshmen classes, since several of us beat incumbents. (Maybe… just maybe… we could break the gridlock mold because we are such a big group.)