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?
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.)
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.
This is the last week to hear House bills in the House and the Senate bills in the Senate. This means that despite the fact that the Democrats hold 48% of the seats in the Arizona House, we are spending this week hearing hundreds of nonsense bills from the Republican Party. How many rights can they restrict or how many taxes can they cut for the rich in just a few days?
Although we have had several weeks with very little action on the floor of Arizona House, like college freshman facing a big exam, the Republicans are going to push forward in after- hours meetings.
In Ways and Means on Wednesday, we heard another Republican run at “almost revenue neutral” tax conformity (which would generate $10 million instead of $0. The $0 plan was vetoed by Governor Ducey.) HB2526 passed along party lines with Chairman Ben Toma calling full tax conformity (which would generate $150-200 million for the state’s general fund) an “illegal tax increase.” When I explained my vote, I reminded everyone that the Legislative Council ruled full conformity was not a tax increase. If HB2526 passes, everyone who has filed their income taxes already will have to do an amendment; it also decouples our tax forms from the feds, which makes filing less convenient. The Republicans also passed HB2703 to delay the filing date for state income taxes to June. This just gives them more time to push their tax cut agenda.
In the Health and Human Services Committee today, we are hearing three anti-vaccine bills: HB2470, HB2471 and HB2472. Similar bills were killed in the Senate Health Committee. I’m not sure of the outcome in the House committee.
You can still make your opinions known on social media and on the Request to Speak System. Pro- and anti-vaccine people are running neck and neck on RTS when I looked yesterday.
The Republican and Democratic Caucuses are scheduled to meet from 3-9pm on Thursday. What bills are so important that we have to be there at 9 o’clock at night— when no constituents are present? Are the Republicans intending to force us to vote after 9 o’clock to pass some of their legislation? I’m going to take issue with that if that happens. We have accomplished almost nothing on the House. Only 50 bills have voted on and passed in six weeks. Only two of those 50 bills were democratic bills, although we control 48% of the House.
What bills are they leaving behind in the rush to pass their ideological measures? The Equal Rights Amendment, for one. Speaker Bowers told me in a private meeting that he would do *nothing* to advance the Equal Rights Amendment. That means we have to do it on our own. Tell them you want HCR2030 passed in Arizona!
The Arizona House is moving at a snail’s pace this session. In fact, Senator David Bradley has quipped that the Senate should take a one-month vacation so the House can catch up.
According to the Chief Clerk, as of Friday, the end of the fifth week of session, 744 House bills were dropped. Forth-seven percent of the bills (349)– including the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)– have not been first read (the first step in the process). Only 50 bills (7%) have been third read (the final vote). We voted on about half of those 50 on Thursday afternoon. The coming week will be NUTS because it is the final week for the House to hear House bills and for the Senate to hear Senate bills. At this point, there are a lot of bipartisan bills on the cutting room floor in the Speaker’s office.
With a 29-31 (D-R) split in the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers has been extremely cautious about what bills get to the floor for debate and a vote. Except for tax conformity, nothing controversial has made it to a “third read” vote. The vast majority of the bills we have voted on thus far passed through committee unanimously and passed the floor unanimously (or with just a few dissenters from one side or the other). We have had lively debates on ideological bills in my committees– Regulatory Affairs, Ways and Means, and Health and Human Services– but those bills haven’t made it to the floor yet. For example, Republicans on the Regulatory Affairs Committee passed a sub-minimum wage for workers under 22 who are also full-time students. Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee passed two different an income tax breaks to the wealthiest Arizonans. Republicans on the Health and Human Services Committee passed a bill labeling pornography as a public health crisis. (What about gun violence as a public health crisis?)
What has been left unheard in committee or on the floor? Plenty.
The Arizona Legislature waited until the last moment to tackle two big issues– the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) and tax conformity. We voted on both of these on January 31, 2019. The DCP, which was negotiated in advance, cleared the Legislature with 100% voting for passage. In contrast, the tax conformity vote sparked much drama and debate. Legislative Republicans dug in their heels over revenue-neutral tax conformity and insisted on a tax cut to benefit the richest Arizonans, while Governor Doug Ducey and the Democrats argued for fiscal responsibility and full tax conformity.
In the end, 100% of Republican Legislators bucked the governor’s wishes and passed a $150-200 tax cut. Ducey promptly vetoed SB1143 the next day and blasted Legislators on Twitter. Now we are at a standstill, due to infighting in the Republican Party. What side will win? Ideology or fiscal responsibility?
#RedForEd lifted the veil from our eyes and put the issue of corporate tax giveaways front and center in the fight to restore public education funding in Arizona.
As many of you are aware, the Arizona Legislature is giving away more than $13 billion in taxes every year and using only $10 billion to run the state. It is not sound fiscal policy to use accounting gimmicks and 50 fund transfers to “balance” the budget. It is no surprise that the state owes K-12 education around $1 billion. Thanks to scheduled corporate tax cuts passed by the Tea Party*, beginning in 2011, Arizona’s corporations got to keep an extra $1 billion in 2017. These corporate tax cuts continue through 2019, even though we can’t afford them.
As a result of the anger and frustration that many Tucsonans feel about the Arizona Legislature’s performance, the Stop Thief! Let’s Restore Fair Taxes Community Forum drew a standing room only crowd of diverse participants. The event was hosted by the Pima Area Labor Federation (PALF) and Progressive Democrats of America (PDA Tucson), with support from many other unions and community groups.
Heart-felt testimonies from current high school students, who explained how school budget cuts have impacted their lives and their schools, opened the forum.
LD9 Rep. Randy Friese gave a detailed presentation on tax revenue and how it has been siphoned off by special interest groups and corporate tax cuts for decades. (Video after the jump.)
My talk focused on specific tax giveaway votes in the 53rd Legislature. focused specific tax giveaway bills and the drama that swirled around the bills that passed and the ones that failed. (Video after the jump.) Excluding any votes related to budget appropriations, all of the tax giveaway votes in the 53rd Legislature were bipartisan— with Democrats and Republicans on both sides.
The Legislature’s mindset on tax giveaways shifted from January 2017– when two Progressive Democrats made a pact to vote against every tax giveaway until the schools were fully funded– to budget night in May 2018. The Progressive viewpoint was: If the state “can’t afford” to fully fund K-12 public education (due to self-imposed austerity), then we “can’t afford” to give away or excuse any more taxes until the schools are on stable footing and fully funded. Thanks to the #RedForEd movement, on budget night 2018, hundreds of teachers, parents, and supporters filled the House gallery and the Capitol lawn and demanded that public education take priority over corporate tax cuts.
As I mentioned in my talk, a thorough tax giveaway review bill and several tax reform or repeal bills were proposed in the Legislature in 2018. Unfortunately, due to the gamesmanship at the Capitol, these bills were not heard because they were proposed by Democrats: Senator Steve Farley and Reps. Mark Cardenas, Randy Friese, and Pamela Powers Hannley.
It’s time to review all of the tax cuts, tax exemptions, tax credits, tax subtractions, and other tax loopholes. Some of these tax giveaways benefit narrow interests– to the detriment of the general fund and the general public. We must determine which tax exemptions benefit the people of Arizona (like the TPT exemptions for food and prescription drugs); which ones benefit special interest groups (like gold bullion enthusiasts); which ones benefit individual corporations (like the infamous four-inch pipe); which ones we are effective and affordable; and how we can spark economic development without breaking our budget and starving all of our educational institutions, as we are now.
Several people told me that they felt hopeful after my talk because so many costly tax giveaways were stopped on a bipartisan vote. If fact, all of the tax giveaway votes were bipartisan— with Democrats and Republicans on both sides. This is why it is important to ask every candidate in the 2018 election what their stance is on tax giveaways, the #RedForEd movement, the Invest In Ed Citizens Initiative (to secure long-term funding for K-12), and the Outlaw Dirty Money Citizens Initiative. Will these candidates fight for the people or will they “take the money and run”?
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.
It has been a little more than a month since the 53rd Legislature ended with a 40-hour marathon, passing the budget in the middle of the night, under the watchful eye of Red for Ed teachers and supporters.
We passed dental therapy, expanding access to affordable dental care for urban and rural residents and creating new healthcare jobs. (Video.)
We stopped several corporate tax giveaway bills that would have further drained the general fund and taken money from public education. (Video.)
We stopped an untested technology from being used on Arizona workers. After Uber and Theranos, hopefully we have learned our lesson on putting untested technologies into statute. (Video.)
What didn’t we do?
We failed to adequately fund k-12 public education, community colleges or the university system. In fact, the Republican response to the Red for Ed movement was to make 50 fund transfers to pay the teachers a bit more (but not as much as they deserve). It’s time to restore k-12 public education funds for personnel and infrastructure to pre-recession levels. Funding education is economic development. (Video.)