By Jim Nintzel
Here's The Score:
REPUBLICANS OUTNUMBER DEMOCRATS 19-11 in the state Senate and 38-22 in the House of Representatives. Coupled with the power of crusading GOP Gov. J. Fife Symington III, the 42nd Legislature has the power to turn our state into a showcase of conservative wisdom--the envy of the rest of the nation, or at least that portion that believes Rush Limbaugh is God.
It also has the golden opportunity to charge through its term and sell out to every big-money interest known to Man.
So how are lawmakers doing so far? Smashingly, thank you.
THE FIRST BIG news out of the House Environment Committee this year was a series of bills sponsored by committee chairman Russell Bowers. A Mesa Republican, Bowers introduced legislation that would essentially strip the Department of Environmental Quality of its enforcement capability.
Bowers has plans for big changes at DEQ. He'd like to see the agency lose its power to prevent water and air pollution. He wants to change the law which allows state officials to halt the work of companies that are violating environmental law. He thinks wildcat dumping and polluted drinking water should no longer be considered an environmental nuisance. And he wants all health standards used by both Environmental Quality and the Department of Health Services to be determined through a complex process.
Such a nice man. Intelligent, too. Future generations of armless, two-headed, slightly humanoid-looking creatures undoubtedly will create a memorial sludge pond in his memory.
While awaiting the judgment of history, Bowers also wants to change current law requiring some environmental education in schools so children are also taught the dollar cost of environmental protection. Yes, kiddies, money is certainly the most important aspect of preserving our increasingly fragile environment. Every dumbfuck logger and nose-picking fertilizer-industry worker knows that.
Last week, the House Environment Committee passed a bill which encourages the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons, which are thought to be destroying the ozone layer. Sure, there's an international agreement called the Montreal Protocol which phases out the production of CFCs, but that's one of those silly treaty things signed by the United States and a number of strange, foreign countries whose wishes are irrelevant to Arizona lawmakers.
Bill sponsor Robert Blendu, a Mesa Republican, told newspapers he'd like to see Arizona become the CFC capital of the world. Perhaps Blendu's is a great idea whose time has come--eliminate the ozone layer and all those welfare cheats will die! The total destruction of other life on earth is a small price to pay for such a moral triumph.
The Senate, meanwhile, has put forth a call asking the U.S. Forest Service to adopt loose standards for the protection of endangered species in the six national forests in Arizona. The federal agency has to amend the current land-use plans to provide protection for the northern Goshawk and Mexican spotted owl--pointless creatures, really, who lack our human ability to make and spend money.
Senate Concurrent Memorial 1002 asks the Forest Service to consider a plan called Alternative E, which would allow logging throughout the habitat of endangered species. Lobbyists supporting the legislation have gone as far as to argue that clearing trees out of those areas would help endangered species because, of course, fewer trees make forest fires less likely.
(Hmm, we wonder--would a law allowing Arizona's many teenagers armed with automatic weapons to shoot lobbyists in the head at close range make for fewer danged laws in the first place? It's a pro-gun, anti-lobbyist, anti-government kinda proposal that just might fly in our increasingly arch-conservative state.)
"The environment is in great jeopardy," says Senate Minority Leader Peter Goudinoff, a Tucson Democrat. "The question is how much damage will they do. You won't see anything positive in any way, shape or form."
Such a negative guy.
LIKE LAST YEAR, vouchers are taking center stage in the debate over education reform. Symington has asked the Legislature to revisit the plan it rejected last year, which would start a pilot program providing $1,500 vouchers for some 8,000 lower-income students over four years.
However, lawmakers haven't really paid much attention to Symington's plan. In the House, Rep. Dan Schottel, a Tucson Republican who heads the House Education Committee, wants to pass legislation for a two-year pilot program for vouchers limited to 2 percent of Arizona's school population, which comes out to about 14,000 kids. Schottel's plan would provide $3,500 per child, with $2,500 going for tuition at a private school and $1,000 earmarked to the public school the child would have attended, to make up for the revenue the public school would lose.
The Senate voucher plan hasn't emerged yet, but insiders say senators are spitballing an idea to make $500 vouchers available to all the children in the state.
The Legislature is also scrambling to fix a problem it created last year when it passed open enrollment legislation, which allowed parents to send their kids to schools outside their districts. The eventual legislation created so much red tape that parents who formerly had no trouble sending their kids to a preferred school suddenly found themselves caught up in new regulations. Senate Bill 1037 mandates open enrollment but allows local school boards to set up open enrollment policies. An identical bill is in the House.
Whatever the legislators come up with, it's expected to have little effect in Tucson, where the city's largest district, Tucson Unified, is operating under court-ordered desegregation rules which greatly complicate students playing musical chairs, at least among the public schools. Perhaps our brilliant legislators can figure out a way to throw off the yoke of federal oppression altogether, however, making a return to segregated schools and separate drinking fountains a reality. Think of it as a Nifty Fifties nostalgia trip, and see our discussion of the states' rights movement.
THE STATES' RIGHTS drumbeat is pounding throughout the halls of the Legislature. Symington and the Republican leadership say the U.S. government is unfair in passing laws like the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act, which force states to act without providing federal dollars to ease the expense of compliance.
This year, the Senate Government Reform Committee and the House States' Rights and Mandates Committee were created to tackle the issue. Some legislators have complained the new committees are overkill, since last year the Legislature established the Joint Legislative Committee on Federal Mandates and the Constitutional Defense Council, which was given $1 million to sue the feds over states' rights issues--which means taxpayers pay for both state and federal lawyers, as well as all related court costs. Perhaps this would be a place to start that tort reform that's always coming up around the Capitol.
This year, legislators are working to cut all ties between the Constitutional Defense Council and the attorney general's office, which says it could do the legal work for less money than the private attorneys the CDC wants to hire.
All of this thunder will probably result in little more than the passage of some strongly worded resolutions decrying federal laws and regulations, with perhaps a date set for a big Conference of the States, which will be an opportunity for legislators to get together to bitch about the federal government--most likely at taxpayer expense.
"I think they'll call a Conference of the States," says Goudinoff, who wonders, "Will there be golf? Where will it be--the Bahamas? This issue is so phony."
Where is the John Birch Society when you really need it to deal with these pain-in-the-ass liberals and their impertinent questions? Perhaps the Republicans will offer him some money to shut up. It works with the northern Goshawk and the Mexican spotted owl, doesn't it?
Revisiting Prop 300
THEN THERE'S THE private property "takings" issue. A quick history lesson: The Legislature passed the Private Property Protection Act in 1992, which would have forced state agencies to compensate landowners if state regulations caused them to forego using their land in a certain way--say, if someone felt they were deprived of income because state law said they couldn't build a toxic waste dump in their backyard, then they could be eligible for taxpayer dollars.
Before the law could go into effect, a coalition of environmental groups conducted a successful referendum drive and put the law up to a public vote, in the form of Proposition 300 on the 1994 ballot. The law was soundly defeated by a 6-4 margin last November.
Lawmakers, however, are still determined to pass "takings" legislation.
"It's like date rape," one sour-grapes Capitol insider says. "They know that when voters said 'No,' what they really meant was 'Yes.' "
Four bills--HB 2220, 2221, 2222 and 2229--have already been introduced to revisit the "takings" issue.
BOTH SYMINGTON AND the Legislature have drawn up $4.5 billion budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July.
Both budgets offer $200 million in tax cuts. Going along with his vision of eliminating the state income tax, Symington wants to see his cuts come from personal income taxes.
Legislators, meanwhile, haven't settled on a scheme for the cut. The big rage in the Senate these days is 3.15 percent flat tax on income. Proposed by Sen. Mark Spitzer, a Phoenix Republican, the plan would scrap all exemptions and deductions. Single people earning less than $7,500 and married couples making less than $15,000 would owe no state taxes and everyone else would pay 3.15 percent of their income. Spitzer says the plan would let citizens file their tax returns on a postcard.
Although the plan has picked up strong support in the Senate and a lukewarm response from the governor, it has been hammered by the Democratic leadership.
"It's outrageous," says spoil-sport Goudinoff, adding the flat-tax proposal would give 42 percent of the $200 million tax cut to 1 percent of the population--the very rich, which is where money actually belongs. "$26 million goes to 456 people. Half of us--you and me and 700,000 other people--get to share a $14 million tax cut out of $200 million." Seems fair.
Despite all the talk, Goudinoff claims the proposal is nothing to get excited about yet.
"My experience with flat-tax proposals are when you look at the fine print, you start having reservations," he says. "For it to work, you have to eliminate all kinds of deductions. When they start running the numbers, they're going to find some little old lady getting tax increases out of it, and it's going to die."
Little old ladies--who needs 'em. Certainly not Republicans.
THIS IS, OF course, hardly a comprehensive survey of what's happening at the Legislature this year. But there's more to come--our many statehouse spies will allow us to continue to tell you more about what's up in the months ahead.
Now the big question: What can you do about it?
Well, as some our deluded acquaintances in the public-interest groups are fond of saying, lawmakers work for you. They're the hired help, and they're deciding how your tax dollars should be spent.
Pardon us while we chortle privately to ourselves.
Anyway, they claim that if lawmakers get even three phone calls on an issue, they consider it a torrent of public opinion. Nobody ever calls these guys. So we've included a toll-free phone number for the statehouse.
That's right--you have everything you need to become a lobbyist--so be careful you don't get shot in the head. And if you have an opinion on any of the issues we've covered this week, phone your representatives and let 'em know what it is.
It probably won't make any difference. But you'll help ease their loneliness. You'll feel better after you've gotten it off your chest. And--who knows--you might even save the world--or at least our little corner of it. We'll need some place to dump our toxic sludge, and it might as well be Arizona.
Test yourself: Do you have what it takes to be an Arizona State Legislator and/or U.S. Representative from Arizona?
1. How long have you lived in your district:
a) More than one year.
b) Maybe one year when I take office.
c) It's only a legal address so I can run for election.
2. Martial status:
a) Yes, with photogenic children.
b) Divorced, will borrow my kids for my campaign.
c) Single, or will act like it, prefer:
(+1 bonus for each checked)
a) Yes, screwing around is wrong.
b) Yes, all that other stuff is in the past for me now.
c) No, but I'll fake it.
4. Party Affiliation:
a) Moderate Democrat or Republican who does my own thinking.
b) Far-left Democrat who wants to redistribute wealth to the poor.
c) Far right Republican who wants to redistribute wealth to my friends.
5. Religion, church affiliation:
a) Yes, an established faith based on scripture.
b) Yes, an obscure sect who thinks the rest of you are damned.
c) Yes, an obscure sect of my own creation that you cannot join.
6. Campaign would be
a) Myself, with lots of friends and neighbors helping out.
b) Myself, using my children's trust fund.
c) Big PACS--I'm more than willing to shamelessly pander to deep pockets.
7. If elected, I pledge to serve:
a) Arizona citizens and future generations.
b) People who got me elected.
c) People who will get me re- elected.
8. I will probably suck up to:
a) The media.
c) The Chamber of Commerce and their friends.
9. I believe Arizona's greatest need is:
a) Sustainable, planned economic development.
b) Economic development at all costs.
c) More mines and a big electrified fence at the border.
10. Arizona's greatest asset:
a) Our diverse and beautiful state and the people who live here.
b) Irresponsible giveaways to any out-of-state goon with a buck.
c) Great babes and cheap plastic surgeons.
Scores: Give yourself 1 point for each "a," 2 points for each "b" and three points for each "c."
0 to 10 points
Don't run. Your best hope is for someone in office to resign, die or fall victim to a messy scandal. Once you're in, you can make friends, kiss special interests' butts and easily run as an incumbent.
11 to 20 points
Try running in a safe district with an open seat. Don't say anything controversial or outside the party line, and use your family connections to the hilt.
21 or more points
Start campaigning now! You are choice material for public office and will probably succeed in becoming one of Arizona's worst political nightmares and end up with a cushy diplomatic post.
by Sidney Philips
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