by Jim Nintzel
The latest report from state Rep. Steve Farley:
Howdy, Friends O'Farley…
Let's start with a few stats.
The House has finished hearing House bills and the Senate has finished hearing Senate bills. So this is a good time to look at what bills went where, and whether certain bills from members of a certain political party were treated fairly.
In the House, Democrats introduced 233 bills, while Republicans introduced 638 bills.
Out of those lovely bundles of legalese, Republicans had 70%, and Democrats had only 16% of their bills heard in committees.
To put it another way, 448 House bills were heard
in House committees. Out of those bills, 8% were sponsored by Democrats, and 92% were sponsored by Republicans.
If bills were heard based on the number of members of each party, Democrats should have had 42% of the bills heard. But in this system, to the majority goes all the power. It may be time for a different majority.
But wait, It's Budget Week!
Problem is, there's no budget yet.
The promising compromise Third Party Budget I spoke about a couple of weeks ago is all but dead, since current Republican leadership seems to have no interest in ideas that include any increase in revenues, even if they have bipartisan support.
We hear that the most recent proposals will be similar to the Governor's draconian budget as introduced in January, but there are some added twists which may or may not be revealed this week.
We do know they will be eliminating all-day Kindergarten, which means that kids will start their schooling with a weaker foundation and struggling young families will have to find childcare or pay tuition at their public school. We also know they plan to raid voter-protected funds including First Things First and the Growing Smarter funds. I wonder if the public will agree that the Legislature is more trustworthy than the People when it comes to spending taxpayer money.
We also know that they will include Governor Brewer's health care cuts. Just so we are all on the same page, here is a review of who's going to get hurt:
—> 14,600 adults with serious mental illness (SMI)
—> 4,200 children
—> 6,600 adult substance abusers
—> 1,100 adults with general mental health (GMH)
—> 110,400 parents on AHCCCS
—> 200,000 others on AHCCCS
—> MED: 4,200
—> SSI: 24,700
—> 42,182 children on KidsCare
That is a total of 417,982 Arizonans who are going to lose their healthcare in the next few weeks, should the majority budget pass.
It is now estimated that throwing all these folks off their healthcare will not save us any money. In fact, it will cost us more than $2.8 billion in lost federal matching funds and potentially destroy 46,000 jobs. Hospitals may be forced to close and health insurance premiums will skyrocket due to emergency rooms packed with uninsured people receiving unreimbursed care.
Not only is this a terrible idea, it's also illegal. Arizona voters in 2000 clearly chose to extend healthcare to all those below the federal poverty line, and they required that state government do so. The people did not choose the option that was on the same ballot wherein healthcare would only be extended to the extent that tobacco settlement money was available to do so.
In what appears to be an extremely cynical move, the Governor and Republican legislative leadership apparently believe that they can overturn the voters' will without going back to the voters for approval — a clear violation of the Voter Protection Amendment.
Although this action can and will be overturned in a court of law, Republican leaders calculate that eliminating healthcare in this illegal way will enable them to balance the budget on paper. By the time a judge overrules them, the deficit will be someone else's problem. This is leadership?
In a related and brazen show of irony, Governor Brewer today announced that instead of fighting to save these desperately needed programs, she recommends that the state punt the problem to faith-based and nonprofit services, most of whom are struggling as well, and none of whom have the capacity to pick up the pieces left by her budget.
She actually is quoted in a press release saying, “As my Administration confronts a decline in roughly 40 percent of state revenues, and a necessary restructuring of state government, it is important that our families and communities unite together with us to help our most vulnerable citizens.” In other words, Jan Brewer is saying, "Not my problem."
While our most vulnerable get preyed upon, the corporate tax giveaways keep piling up.
One particularly questionable Republican bill (HB2676) would create Energy Parks to produce renewable energy in our state. Which sounds great, except for the fact that it redefines nuclear energy as renewable.
And it does much worse. Within its language are provisions that would:
—> give away a massive decrease in property taxes paid by existing nuclear plants, all of which would be shifted onto homeowners and other businesses.
—> forbid any city or county from using zoning to disallow the placement of these energy parks. In other words, if someone wants to place a nuclear plant in your backyard, there is nothing you or your city could do about it.
This is hot on the heels of a Republican bill (HB2701) that was withdrawn last Friday under relentless pressure from the business community. It would have eliminated our renewable energy standards that require we generate at least 15% of our power from renewables by 2020.
Huge solar companies that had relocated here from around the world because of the renewable standards, creating thousands of Arizona jobs along the way, caught wind of this bill and publicly stated that they would no longer have any reason to stay in Arizona, and they would take their jobs with them.
Luckily, the spectre of being the party of job destruction was too scary even for Republican leadership, and the bill was quashed. Every once in a while, we need a victory.
Finally tonight, while we are on the topic of victory, several of you have recently inquired about the status of Sen. Linda Gray's (R-Phoenix) bill that would have eliminated Historic Neighborhoods in Arizona (SB1166).
That bill was held in the Senate Finance committee, and looks to be dead. In any session, a bill can come back in other form (you will recall the missive on Strikers last week), so vigilance is always necessary, but I believe Historic Neighborhoods are reasonably safe for now.