Today was the last Ways and Means Committee Meeting of 2021, and it was a doozie. More interruptions. More suppression of speech. More putdowns.
There were several controversial bills on the agenda, particularly three that take money from public education or lead to more privatization.
SB1273 would allow Student Tuition Organizations (STOs) to give students money for expenses other than tuition. we know that STO’s are not transparent. We know how many scholarships they deliver but not how many students are being served. We also know that some parents get as much is $20,000 a year per child for those children to attend private or religious schools. That’s blatantly unfair and in equitable. SB1273 would just allow them to give away more tax￼￼ with no accountability.
SB1280 is about the privatization of school transportation. There is a previous video on this bill, but things came out in committee that make men more against it. One of my big concerns about strike-everything bill SB1280 is child safety. This bill allows charter schools and districts schools to use some of their current transportation funding in order to give grants to parents. As you may know, charter schools get money for transportation, but they don’t have to use it on transportation. I’m sure you’ve seen the long lines of parents who are picking up or dropping off their kids at charter schools. Public school kids have the opportunity to ride the school bus or perhaps even walk to their neighborhood school. This bill would allow parents to apply for grants to get an unknown amount of money to come up with “innovative ways” to get their kids to school, including paying parents gas mileage or funding neighborhood carpools, city bus passes, or ride sharing services (like Uber or Lyft).
Continue reading Republicans Attack Invest In Ed & Ignore Voters (video)
It feels like deja vu all over again. This week a vanilla bill (HB2321) was used as a striker and was turned into a huge tax credit for big corporations. Corporations who have $2 billion or more to invest in building “qualified facilities” and hiring workers at a certain level are eligible for a total of $125 million in refundable tax credits per year.
What is wrong with that?
Continue reading Striker #HB2321 Is Massive Corporate Welfare Bill (video)
This is an RTS alert for SB1041 and SB1118, two student tuition organization (STO) bills that are in Ways and Means on March 10.
There are many different tax credits in support of STOs. SB1041 refers to tax credits for STO scholarships for displaced and disabled children. (Displaced children have been removed from their home and could be in foster care.) This STO is capped at $5 million in tax credits per year, and all of the tax credits are claimed each year. SB1041 would raise that cap by $5 million a year annually.￼ Businesses can buy tax credits from an STO, which turns that cash into scholarships for designated types of students to attend private schools.
Continue reading #AZLeg Should Fund #PublicEd, Not Pricey Private Schools (video)
Business incentives, also known as tax giveaways, are common up here in the Arizona Legislature. Today’s video is about three different economic development￼ bills. I voted “no” on two of them and “yes” on one.
HB2834 is the ultimate in picking winners and losers. It would allow municipalities to determine projects that would be eligible for lower property taxes in order to reduce their expenses while the project is being developed. (This is similar to GPLET but different.) The upshot is that you could have one building that is getting a dramatically reduced property tax rate right next to another building whose owner is paying their fair share of property taxes.￼ ATRA spoke against this bill and said it could be subject to gift clause legal challenges. This was billed as legislation that would help rural Arizona, but it was a statewide plan to allow municipalities to pick winners and losers.￼ It died in committee with four Republicans and me voting “no,” and three Dems and two Republicans voting “yes”.
HB2282 is a small business assistance grant using federal dollars. It would distribute $5000 grants to truly small business to help them keep afloat or help them re-invent themselves for the post-COVID era. It has limited time frame, it will help Local First businesses, and it uses federal dollars we have. It easily passed on a bipartisan vote. This was also a state wide economic development plan, but the bill sponsor, Rep. Aaron Lieberman, had metrics built into it to make sure that rural Arizona gets their fair share.
HB2649 is the 10-year continuation of tax incentives for data centers. When you store your data and information on the cloud, it’s actually being stored in a giant facility in Phoenix. The Lobbyist said that this 10 year program have been really successful because now Arizona has 25 data centers that qualify for this tax giveaway. I asked where the data centers are located and how many jobs were created. The Lobbyist presentations were very thin considering this is a 10 year multi million dollar program. When I had my public relations business, one of my services was writing and designing annual reports. There should be a 10 year recap on what’s been accomplished by this program, how much it costs and how many jobs were created where — not just nebulous factoids and random data points.
Continue reading Economic Development Across Arizona (video)
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.
Continue reading RTS Alert HB2391 & HB2255: Transparency in Government. Yes! (video)
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)