by Jim Nintzel
Here's the latest update on the Arizona Legislature from Rep. Steve Farley. He also slips in a note about voting against the Public Safety First initiative, aka Prop 200 on your November ballot.
Howdy, Friends O'Farley…
Here we are in October, and our deficit is now $1.5 billion and growing.
Constitutionally, the Legislature is supposed to have delivered a balanced budget on June 30, but no one seems to want to enforce that clause. Perhaps this could finally be a good use for Sheriff Joe?
Dressing the Governor and the Legislative majority in pink stripes and locking them into Tent City could finally force an agreement of some kind. Not that I want to spend too much time thinking of the images that go with that scenario.
There is some talk of the Governor calling us into special session again next
week (that's Special Session Number 4 for those of you keeping score at home), and perhaps another after that one's done. But the call has not yet gone out.
The first one needs to happen soon to keep some departments afloat. The AZ Corporation Commission (ACC) in particular is in a pickle. The Governor signed a bill that cuts off funding from the ACC, but vetoed the part that allows them to fund themselves. For that reason, they are nearing the flat-broke stage.
To solve that, the Phoenix Republican majority on the Commission voted 3-2 to close the ACC office in Tucson, over the objections of the two Democrats who were worried the office may never again open. Not only does this hurt Tucson, it will force all new business applicants to go to Phoenix to get their paperwork and double the time it takes to get that paperwork processed.
A fix would be easy to do in a special session, and wouldn't cost any money, but the Governor is afraid (with some reason) that legislative Republicans would turn that session into a public flogging of the Governor, and the Speaker and President are not convinced that the problem needs to be fixed before January.
We'll see if common sense prevails over Republican infighting and we get that special session soon.
The stickier problem is the growing deficit. The legislative majority is still jonesing for that education equalization property tax cut — the one that is effectively a huge bailout to the state's largest corporate landowners (including large California investors). This would of course make the financial picture $250 million worse.
And the Governor seems to be giving in to the majority's desire to see more cuts. Today she was quoted as saying: "There will be probably a lot of programs that will have to be done away with."
Senate Appropriations Chair Russell Pearce is happy to lead the bandwagon to dismantle state services. He publicly stated that his first priority is to slash education, specifically to get rid of full-day Kindergarten and shrink the schoolyear by five days. What good is education in a 21st-century economy anyway?
We Democrats are continuing to push for fair revenue sources that stabilize our economy in the long term and don't hurt middle class people or small businesses. There is hope once again that the Governor may be open to talking with us about revenue sources other than her ill-advised sales tax increase. If that happens, and we reach agreement, I do believe we can solve our problem and gain support from the few moderates remaining in the majority caucus.
On the budget topic, here's a little feature I call:
—> Fun Facts About The Most Recent Budget <—
Did you know that the part of the budget Governor Brewer signed included:
—> The elimination of domestic partner benefits for all state (and university) employees? Yes, that will be another 800 people knocked off their health insurance, although that may be delayed until next September due to legal requirements that you cannot be removed until the next Open Enrollment period.
—> The elimination of KidsCare Parents, which tossed 10,000 middle-income parents off their health insurance as of October 1, even though they were paying premiums.
—> The elimination of funding for childcare for 7,000 low-income families.
—> The privatization of all state prisons and death rows (except Yuma) and Kartchner Caverns.
—> The mortgaging of the State Capitol, our state prisons, and most other major state buildings.
—> A freeze on new city and county building codes and impact fees for two years — a pure political giveaway to the Central Arizona Homebuilders Association.
Are you getting ready to vote for a new Legislature and Governor in 2010?
Let's turn to some good news: our Tucson Modern Streetcar passed a major milestone on its way toward a projected 2012 opening. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) last week green-lighted our project to order our streetcars from Oregon Ironworks and start final design and utility relocation.
That means that construction will start next year, creating hundreds of jobs that will multiply into thousands once we are open for passengers. This is all happening right when we need it the most — in the middle of this devastating recession.
This new clean transportation option will inspire a true economic and cultural renaissance connecting the University of Arizona with Fourth Avenue, Downtown, and the Westside. I can't wait to see you on the train on Opening Day, likely less than three years from now.
While at the Distracted Driving Summit last week, I spoke with both Transportation Secretary LaHood and Federal Transit Administrator Rogoff about the Tucson Streetcar and they were both aware of the project and very supportive of our efforts.
I felt very honored and privileged to be able to speak at the Summit to such a knowledgeable and dedicated group of leaders from across the country. Everyone from victims' families to cellphone industry executives were there and the Secretary set a very strong tone that we must ban driving while texting and we must do it now.
You can see the presentations and video and read the liveblogs from the 2-day summit online here:
My session was on the second day under the title: Legislation, Regulation and Enforcement of Distracted Driving. It was titled "The 'Nanny State' Diaries: The Politics of DWT in a Libertarian Legislature." and seems to have held the interest of the attendees. I even got an on-air interview from Brian Naylor of NPR's "All Things Considered" last Thursday afternoon.
One chilling moment of the event was Reggie Shaw, a 22-year-old kid from Utah, telling his story of the day three years previously when he drove while texting and crashed head-on into an oncoming car, killing the two men inside, devastating their families and changing the teen's life forever. He now spends his time telling his story to high school kids. Utah last year passed a law, with primary enforcement, mandating up to 90 days in jail for driving while texting, and 15 years in prison if you kill someone while doing so.
For those who think enforcement is a problem, the director of the NY State Police — which enforces a total handheld cellphone and texting ban — 8% of all tickets issued are now cellphone-related, and he strongly supports a primary enforcement law to give police officers a more effective tool.
In California, in the first six months of their hands-free only law, there were 360 fewer fatalities and 6,000-7,000 fewer accidents per month. Secretary LaHood estimated that nearly 6,000 Americans died last year as a result of distracted driving, and that amount is increasing. He called it "an epidemic".
What humbled me the most were the victim's families who transformed their intense personal grief into public action. New organizations are being founded to fight for DWT and cellphone bans, and the Chair of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) will be working with some of them to create a new distracted driving organization just like MADD. Several scientists said you are just as impaired while talking on the cellphone as if you were drunk, and texting is at least as bad as extreme DUI.
Scientists also disagreed as to whether hands-free devices mitigate the danger of cellphone use while driving. In laboratory simulations, it was determined that you are 4 times as likely to get into an accident while on the phone whether or not you are using a hands-free device, but real-life studies have shown that a hands-free device can have a protective effect, perhaps by keeping you awake and alert.
The issue is "cognitive distraction", which occurs when you are focusing on the conversation in your head, not the road in front of you. More studies will be done, but I am responding by deciding not to use my cellphone in the car at all anymore. I encourage you to do the same.
So I apologize if you get my voicemail while calling me on the cellphone from time to time — I will return your messages when I get off the road.
Given all the strong support of national organizations for a DWT ban, and their determination to lobby for such bans in all 50 states, I have renewed optimism that we can pass our law at last and make Arizona's roads safer next year.
Finally today, if you are a City of Tucson resident, I want to urge you to vote either when your ballot arrives in the mail, or on November 3 at the polling places. In that regard, I have some suggestions for you.
Most importantly, please vote NO on Prop 200, which sets arbitrary minimum staffing levels for police and firefighters in the City of Tucson, without a funding source to pay for it. This will raise taxes dramatically on both city AND COUNTY residents and will cost at least $300 million in the next five years without any guarantees that public safety will be improved. On the other hand, it will guarantee that community services like pothole filling, afterschool programs, and food programs will be chopped. This is a purely partisan trick, and is opposed even by many in the business community, including the Tucson Chamber of Commerce. For more info, see www.DontHandcuffTucson.com.
Also important, please vote YES on the TUSD and Amphi school district override elections to put more money into our classrooms. These are props 401 & 402 in TUSD, and 403 & 404 in Amphi. As long as the legislative majority refuses to adequately fund education, we're going to need to do it ourselves to ensure our children's future.
And regarding the Tucson council races, I suggest you vote for Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich, who in my opinion are doing a great job in tough circumstances to lead this city in the right direction, and Richard Fimbres who has a lifelong commitment to our community and public safety and whom I got to know well when he was Governor Napolitano's Director of Highway Safety.
Thanks for your dedication to change in Arizona, and your focus on the future,