#AZ Legislature Passes ‘Skinny’ Budget with #Bipartisan #Coronavirus Plan (video)

Leader Charlene Fernandez

With the novel Coronavirus pandemic swirling around the Arizona capital and, most likely, through the halls of the legislature, the Arizona House passed the skinny budget with the Senate-negotiated bipartisan package to address the pandemic in Arizona.

The budget includes $50 million to address the Coronavirus. Along with the emergency response funding of $55 million for the Arizona Department of Health Services, which was passed by the Legislature a couple of weeks ago, that makes $105 million, which the Legislature has earmarked for the Coronavirus reponse. The additional $50 million, which was part of the Senate plan, goes to the governor, and he has flexibility on how to spend it and IF it should be spent.

This is a good first step, but some of us think that the House Democratic amendments would have fleshed out this plan a bit more. For example, there were Coronavirus Crisis Response Plan amendments to give $10 million to the food bank system, $40 million to the Housing Trust Fund (to help with rent, mortgage payments and eviction prevention), funds to expand TANF to five years and increase the amount per month (which is now set at 36% of the 1992 poverty rate), and funds to increase unemployment compensation, which, of course, is one of the worst in the country at ~$240/week.

None of these specifics got into the budget. We will have to watch Governor Ducey and what he does with his flexibility on spending the funds we have allotted. No one knows exactly what the future will bring, so some flexibility is a good thing.

The legislature adjourned until April 13, three weeks from now. Who knows where we will be in three weeks. As of today, March 24, 2020, Arizona has 326 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and five deaths. Two weeks ago, the number jumped from six cases to nine. Almost 100 confirmed cases were added between yesterday and today.

Continue reading #AZ Legislature Passes ‘Skinny’ Budget with #Bipartisan #Coronavirus Plan (video)

More Transparency in Commerce Authority Tax Giveaway Deals Is Needed (video)

UA College of Medicine

Today’s video is about HB2409, small business investment tax credit extension. This is also known as the Angel Investor Tax Credit. In the big scheme of tax giveaways in the state of Arizona, this one is sort of small potatoes dollar wise, but I still have issues. It is an extension if $2.5 million per year tax credit for 10 years. The angel tax credits are for “qualified investors,” people who are licensed, trained, and smart enough to play the stock market and make otherwise risky investments wisely because of their expertise. [My layman’s definition.] 

I have attended several Bioscience Roadmap events where they showcase research and new discoveries from the universities that are … just …about… ready for market. What they need is venture capital to get the new drug discovery or the next medical device from our universities to production to market.

I am very familiar with this topic because ever since I started my own small business in 1986, I have been writing about or working in public health and medical research. In fact, the first Bioscience Roadmap event that I attended featured Dr. Gene Gerner, Dr. Tom Grogan and the story of how their research at the Arizona Cancer Center blossomed into huge NCI research grants, new drugs, and successful UA spinoff businesses. I knew them, wrote about their research, and photographed them when I worked in the communication office at the cancer center.

My point is that I value scientific research and believe that research jobs (and related jobs that come with big grants) are some of the best jobs in our state. One of the reasons that I don’t support the angel investment tax credit is that I found out that only 30% of the funds go to businesses that spinoff from our research universities. Also, there is a $10 million ceiling to qualify as a “small start-up business” (who is eligible to receive funds from angel investors). If your business has $9 million in assets, is it really as “small business start-up”? 

Continue reading More Transparency in Commerce Authority Tax Giveaway Deals Is Needed (video)

Is $1 Billion in New Tax Giveaways Too Much? (video)

AZ Tax Breaks

Crossover week– when hundreds of bad bills are pushed through both houses– is always difficult. In addition to four 12-hour days this past week, Democrats had the extra pressure of trying to stop the tax giveaway parade before it dances off the cliff with our state’s future.

I used to call these tax giveaways fiscally irresponsible, but with 18 tax breaks poised to pass the Arizona House and more coming our way from the Senate, we have crossed the line into insanity. Of the 18 tax giveaways, 11 have some cost estimate. Those 11 total close to $500,000 annually in new tax breaks starting next fiscal year; there are another 7 tax breaks with unknown costs. They’re not free; the Joint Legislative Budget Commission (JLBC) doesn’t know how to estimate their cost. You can read more detail about these bills these three articles herehere, and here. With so many unknowns, if they all pass, Arizona could be looking at $1 billion in new tax giveaways (AKA lost revenue) in next fiscal year or in the near future, since several of them automatically increase over time, and it takes a two-thirds majority to repeal any of them.

Continue reading Is $1 Billion in New Tax Giveaways Too Much? (video)

How Can the #1 ‘Pro-Life’ State Be #50 in Child Wellbeing? (video)

sleeping baby

Several times during the tax cut debates on Wednesday, Feb. 11, in the House Ways and Means Committee, Chairman Ben Toma and other Republicans repeated the mantra that Arizona has a “budget surplus”. The only reason that we have funds that have not been allocated is because we have had decades of budget cuts and chronic underfunding of important programs like public education(!), the Housing Trust Fund, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and so forth. It’s not that there is no need in our state, and, so therefore, we have extra cash. We don’t have extra money.

Also, several times during the committee meeting, I reminded everybody that Arizona is worst in the nation for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). We are not only shortchanging our school children by underfunding education, we are shortchanging small children before they ever get to school. It is highly ironic that Arizona is the country’s #1 “pro-life” state and also #50 in ACEs, due to our stingy policies and poor treatment of our children.

In my study of gaps and inequities in maternal and child health in Arizona, I took a comprehensive approach and looked through the lens of the social determinants of health. Two contributing factors to Adverse Childhood Experiences are housing insecurity and food insecurity.

Continue reading How Can the #1 ‘Pro-Life’ State Be #50 in Child Wellbeing? (video)

No on HB2388 & Yes on HB2068: Someone Else’s Religion Should Not Dictate Your Healthcare (Video)

The Arizona Legislature’s Request to Speak (RTS) system should be on high alert for the House Health and Human Services Committee meeting on Thursday, Feb. 6.

We will be hearing Cathi Herrod’s funding bill for the fake pregnancy hotline bill (HB2388). This bill gives $1.5 million a year to the 211 information and referral line, but it has strings attached. The information provided will be tailored by the provider’s religious beliefs.

If this bill or the mirror bill (SB1328) passes, the free public 211 referral line would not be allowed to refer to anyone to any organization or clinic that provides abortions or to any provider that would offer other much-needed public health services like pap smears, pregnancy tests, birth control, HIV tests, and basic public health services… in addition to abortion.

These two bills are bad public health policy that force young women and their children into lives of poverty because of an unplanned pregnancy. They cost the state money because 52% of the lives births in Arizona are funded by AHCCCS, the state’s Medical program.

These two bills restrict your access to care based upon someone else’s deeply held religious beliefs. The government should not fund this. 

Continue reading No on HB2388 & Yes on HB2068: Someone Else’s Religion Should Not Dictate Your Healthcare (Video)

If Arizona Is ‘Pro-Life,’ Let’s Look Beyond the Womb (video)

If Arizona is truly a “pro life” state, it’s time to think big on maternal and child health rather than thinking small. Let’s go beyond the womb with our “pro-life” ideals and help Moms and their children lead healthier, safer lives.

I have met with more than 100 people and analyzed the data, the needs, the costs, and the gaps in services in maternal and child health in Arizona for more than a year.

The bottomline is that Arizona has stingy policies, cumbersome bureaucracy, and unnecessarily lengthy application procedures that cost money and lives and limit access to healthcare. I ran on this issue in 2015, and five years later, I am shocked at how right I was.

Did you know that Arizona is dead last– #50 — in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)? ACEs include food insecurity, housing insecurity, loss of parent(s) due to incarceration, death, addiction or abandonment and similar sad scenarios.

Did you know that only 6% of the people eligible for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Need Families) in Arizona actually get it? Not even all Arizonans living in extreme poverty get TANF.

Did you know that women, who are eligible for AHCCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid system), are coming to indigent clinics pregnant with no prenatal care, no insurance, and no money?

It is morally unacceptable and fiscally irresponsible to deny basic healthcare, food security, housing security, and a solid education Arizona’s children and their parents.

Continue reading If Arizona Is ‘Pro-Life,’ Let’s Look Beyond the Womb (video)

Tax Cuts R Us… #WhatCouldGoWrong (video)

revenue neutral

Instead of “Ditat Deus” (God Enriches), Arizona’s motto should be “Tax Cuts R Us.”

Today in the Ways and Means Committee, we heard three tax giveaway bills: HB229 (corporate welfare for utility companies); HB2355 and HB2356 (increases to the 25% charitable tax credit passed in 2019); and HB2358 (increases to the dependent tax credit).

HB2293 exempts the purchase of electric storage units from sales tax (AKA Transaction Privilege Tax or TPT) and from use tax. When I asked Rep. Tim Dunn, the sponsor of the bill, who benefits from this, he said the utility companies benefit from it, but consumers will see a financial benefit because their rates will go down. (Really? When has that ever happened?)

The industry lobbyist made many circular arguments trying to convince us that giving utilities a tax break was good for consumers. Currently, there are eight rate increase cases before the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), including rate increase requests from APS and other electric utilities. When I started talking about rate increases and the relationship to infrastructure investment by utility companies, Committee Chair Ben Toma said that I was off-topic. Dunn and the energy lobbyist were the ones that said giving APS, TEP and SRP a tax break was going to lower costs to consumers. I believe that I was totally on topic when I said that these things were likely to raise our rates in the long term, not lower them.

Continue reading Tax Cuts R Us… #WhatCouldGoWrong (video)

How Should Arizona Pay for Education? Tax the Rich? Or Tax the Poor? (video)

Red for Ed

“How can Arizona increase education funding?” has been an ongoing question since the Tea Party started hollowing out public education and doling out tax breaks ten years ago.

This week the Legislature is hearing a few education funding bills. The Senate Education Committee is hearing two bills related to education funding on Tuesday, January 28: SCR1002 (Brophy McGee) and SB1059 (S. Allen).

SCR1002 is a ballot referral to extend the Prop 301 “temporary” sales tax for education that was passed by voters during the Great Recession, make it permanent, and raise the sales tax from 0.6 cents on a dollar to 1 cent (on top of what you are paying in sales tax now).

SB1059 dictates how the new money from the ballot initiative should he spent. (There’s a lot of detail in there. Check it out.)

Obviously, we need more money for public education at all levels. My question about SCR1002 is: who should be paying more in taxes? Sales tax (AKA Transaction Privilege tax or TPT) is a tax on the poor. Continuously raising sales tax at multiple levels of government is also not “business friendly” because it artificially raises prices to consumers. When some Arizona cities and towns are bumping up against a 10% sales tax, is it smart to continue to raise sales tax to fund state government? Some cities and towns have rent taxes and sales taxes on food. Those really double down on the poor. With a 10% sales tax rate, people would pay $10 in sales tax on $100 of food. Sales tax is one of the more volatile income streams for our state because it depends on consumer purchasing. When consumers are strapped for cash, their purchases go down, and the states revenue goes down.

Continue reading How Should Arizona Pay for Education? Tax the Rich? Or Tax the Poor? (video)

Maternal & Child Health! The Movie! (video)

Selah

Now that I have your attention…

Who can resist babies doing yoga coupled with multiple exclamation points?

As many of you know, maternal and child health has been my focus for nearly a year now, ever since my strong, adorable, and intelligent granddaughter Selah was born with gastroschisis. Her three months in the Nursery Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Tucson Medical Center (TMC) in 2018 gave me a new appreciation for the human and financial costs related to adverse birth outcomes and high tech medicine.

When it comes to maternal and child health, I strongly believe that the state of Arizona can and should do better regarding:

  • Increasing access to prenatal, perinatal and postpartum care.
  • Decreasing the rates of premature and low birthweight babies.
  • Reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and nonmarital births.
  • Reducing toxic stress in and increasing opportunities for families and children by tackling chronic, systemic poverty in Arizona– particularly among single parent households.

Continue reading Maternal & Child Health! The Movie! (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)