Friday, July 31, 2009

Farley on the Budget Negotiations

Posted By on Fri, Jul 31, 2009 at 9:07 AM

Here's the latest missive from state Rep. Steve Farley, a midtown Democrat:

I know it's a few days early for the monthly edition of the Farley Report, but there is action to report on the budget front.

Unfortunately, that is not good news.

You will recall in the last report I described a unanimous vote to restore and even increase funding to education and other important areas, and the hopeful beginning of negotiations between legislative Republicans and Democrats.

At the very start of those talks, Republican leadership made us promise that there would be no side deals with the Governor, unless all parties agreed to it. We invited her to take part, but she repeatedly refused.

For the last few weeks, we legislators had been making good progress in those talks, coming up with a reasonable compromise. We had reached agreement on about three-quarters of the budget.

A few days ago, it became clear that Republican leadership had intentionally misled us. They went behind our backs and worked out a secret deal with the Governor, leaving us—and most reasonable Arizonans—hung out to dry in the Phoenix heat.

As I write this, the Republicans are moving forward a package of bills to reflect those agreements. In order to win support from the far right, this package does exactly what the Governor has repeatedly said she did not want to do — decimate K-12 education.

How exactly? That unanimous agreement we reached on the first day of this special session is completely and utterly betrayed. All increases are rolled back and the draconian cuts of the Republican Legislative budget of June 30 are re-imposed, and K-12 schools would lose their 2% inflation increase for the next three years.

The Governor vetoed that June 30 budget because it would "decimate education." Apparently she's fine with decimation now, because today's agreement also includes her Holy Grail: a ballot referral for that backwards-thinking middle-class-reaming three-year temporary sales tax increase.

But wait, there's more! If we act now, this screamin' deal also comes with:

—> A permanent repeal of the education property tax, creating a $250 million hole in the budget so that most of that money can be taken from our public schools and given to large utilities and mines, many of which are owned by out-of-state investors.

—> $400 million in income tax cuts for the wealthy and business tax cuts for big corporations.

—> A referendum to ask you to trust the Legislature to take all the money you voted to be dedicated to education and health care, and let them spend it on whatever they want for the next three years, including more tax cuts and bailouts for wealthy people and big corporations. Remember the .6% sales tax we agreed to in Prop 301 for education? That tax would still be collected and then delivered to the Legislature as a blank check.

—> A three-year spending limit that would make it illegal to spend more money on schools, health care, and corrections than we spent in 2009, regardless of how much growth we have experienced in the student population, AHCCCS members, or convicts.

—> A huge property tax shift off of businesses and onto homeowners.

—> The sale of nearly all state property, including Kartchner Caverns and the State Capitol.

—> A two-year moratorium on development impact fees and building codes.

And the way they claim to balance the budget is assuming that the sales tax and voter-protection-act repeal will pass muster with voters. Somehow, I have a hard time believing that voters will be excited to vote yes to dramatically increase taxes on middle-class families in order to pay for huge tax giveaways to the wealthiest among us. I also doubt they will vote to trust the Legislature instead of themselves when it comes to voter-approved initiatives.

The Governor's sales tax plan — which makes us MORE dependent on the least stable form of revenue there is — will COST the average Arizona family nearly $500 a year, while the Democratic plan to reduce the sales tax rate while broadening the base to services would SAVE that same family nearly $300 a year.

The Republican budget is wealth redistribution at its worst — Robin Hood on its head. The budget steals from the middle class and gives to the wealthy, while chopping away at all the services that the middle class needs the most, especially public education.

And to add insult to injury, it asks the middle class voters to agree to it all at the ballot. Good luck with that, Republicans!

As I write this, it is 8:00pm on Wednesday, July 29. The budget bills have gone through Appropriations, and we are due to put them through Rules and Caucus soon, with debate on the floor. Presumably.

Only problem is, the Senate doesn't have the votes. The few more moderate Republicans rightfully can't vote yes on this terrible document, and those on the right still won't support referring the sales tax increase to the voters.

The Senate just adjourned until tomorrow at 1:30pm, but we had already heard that the only window of opportunity for us to vote on this is between now and 11am tomorrow morning, due to various Republican members' travel schedules.

The lack of leadership from Republican legislators and Governor Brewer has turned this whole thing into a farce, and its the Arizona people who are suffering for it. Let's see if they have any ability to turn this thing around and even get their own people on their terrible budget. I do know that a different majority would be doing this somewhat differently.

Whoops, it's 8:30pm and we just adjourned until 1:00pm tomorrow.

Thursday, July 30, 4pm:

Watch out, Republican legislative leadership and Governor Brewer, your lack of leadership is showing. The Senate can't even get a quorum to call their Appropriations Committee into order, and the House is losing votes by the minute, according to Republicans I have talked to.

One of the problems causing the majority caucus to lose votes is all those Republican legislators who signed libertarian ayatollah Grover Norquist's no-taxes-ever pledge. Yesterday morning, he sent an email saying that he was kinda-sorta OK with them voting for a referral of a tax hike to the ballot, but only because they got so many tax cuts for the wealthy in return.

Then last night, Grover sent another email saying that he had discovered "new information" and that they were reconsidering their position and would get back to pledge-signers "within 24 hours". That has thrown many conservative members into a panic as they await his next fatwa.

We still await word on whether the budget package will be brought to the floor or not. In the meantime, we did spend a couple of hours in the Democratic caucus examining the budget deal in detail, and found out a few more facts:

—> They have appropriated $8.5 million to pay for this very special election.

—> The sales tax referendum also includes the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) spending cap provisions, likely in violation of the Constitution's single-subject rule. If in violation, the referendum would be thrown out after the Governor signs the deal. Which may be the intent of many of the Republicans who are saying that they would vote to refer the tax to the ballot, but then campaign against it. Does the Governor have any idea she is being played here?

—> If the sales tax increase and the Voter Protection Act repeal fail at the ballot, the big tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations (it's a 30% slashing of corporate taxes by the way!) will still be in place, costing $1.8 billion over the next four years without any way of paying for them.

Right now we are waiting to see when the Republican leadership officially wave the white flag and give up their efforts to do it with Republican support alone. Which one would have thought they learned last time they tried it on June 30.

Meanwhile, we will wait here at the Capitol until they face what looks to be the political reality that they cannot convince both wings of their caucus to support the same budget.

At that point we will be released on our own recognizance. Perhaps Republican leadership will learn for real this time that they need Democrats to make any budget work? Can they possibly be trusted anymore after this botched betrayal? Stay tuned to this soap opera. The conclusion could be very far away.

Thursday, July 30, 8pm:

Still waiting for floor action which is now supposedly set for 8:30pm. Senate Appropriations is now hearing the budget bills at last, after Sen. John Huppenthal was appointed to replace the absent Majority Whip Sen. Pam Gorman, who was a No vote on the budget and left on a vacation at 6pm. Sen. Ron Gould just re-appeared in dramatic fashion after his four-hour drive from Lake Havasu in order to vote No as well, much to the surprise of his Republican colleagues.

Thursday, July 30, 10pm:

During Senate Appropriations, several new amendments were offered to obtain Sen. Jack Harper's vote. One would force an immediate layoff of 5% of the people in every government agency and department. Another would eliminate Rio Nuevo's ability to spend any money on anything, including the newly required transparency measures like a clear public database of expenditures.

Neither is palatable to anyone, likely including the Governor, so the Republican leadership is currently meeting with the Governor to figure out what to do. Also, it would appear that they do not have the votes.

Sen. Carolyn Allen is at home on bedrest since breaking her knee on Monday, and even though the Governor asked her to come to the floor to vote for the budget she refused because she it is so terrible. Gorman is gone, and Gould is a no and is unbudgeable. That doesn't leave enough votes to pass in the Senate, so the only question is how long it will take for them to call off this sorry chapter in the budget saga.

Friday, July 31, 12:30am:

We have received word that we are going to COW and 3rd Read the budget bills sometime tonight (this morning) even though the Senate still does not have the votes and has adjourned for the evening. Republicans are being rounded up by phone and DPS officers all over the state to make sure they are here.

Apparently Harper's amendments will be stripped or dramatically altered to the Governor's desires, and once we are done with the bills, we will leave them for the Senate to come up with the votes tomorrow. Or so they say. More later!

Friday, July 31, 3:10am:

This dirty-dealings in the middle of the night stuff is getting very old. We just got off floor, and all their budget bills passed with 32 votes in favor and all Democrats (at least the 11 of us who were left standing) voting against.

A few tidbits more that came out on the floor about this really bad budget:

—> I did the numbers and discovered that their income tax cut will save $20 a year for households earning less than $50,000 a year, while household earning more than $5,000,000 a year will get more than $34,000 in their pockets.

—> at the same time as the Republican majority voted for this windfall for our wealthiest, they also voted for one of the most callous amendments I have ever seen in this body. This was one of the Jack Harper amendments that was not stripped out. He demanded in exchange for his support of the budget that 5% of state employees be fired because his ideology said that government needs to be cut.

He didn't simply demand that all state agencies absorb a 5% reduction. He wanted people fired. Hard-working, good people who have families to support, mortgages to pay, health care to help their dependents. In the middle of the worst recession in our history. How did he do this?

He demanded, and Republican leadership agreed, and Republican members voted to approve wording that requires agencies to make the reduction ONLY through the number of positions, not through reduction of hours or furloughs. Even if the other employees desired to spread the pain so that no one person would suffer unduly.

This hurtful mass loss of jobs was debated and embraced by the majority just after other Republicans had been arguing that we need corporate tax cuts because they hoped they would create jobs.

Aside from the great personal toll of this move, I also pointed out that major economists of all political stripes have been very clear that cutting government spending and government jobs will deepen and worsen your recession.

The bills are now out of the House and are being debated in the Senate in Committee of the Whole. It is as yet unclear if there are enough votes in the Senate to pass this. Sen. Pam Gorman is now back, and Sen. Ron Gould is causing trouble with a lot of amendments that his leadership doesn't want.

Friday, July 31, 3:55am:

The Senate just passed their budget out of their Committee of the Whole, and is now in recess as they look for those elusive 16 votes..

Friday, July 31, 5am:

The Senate is now adjournd until Tuesday, since they could not find the votes after all. This tawdry tale continues....

————-

One little non-budget-related item at the end of this very long email: the New York Times has been publishing an excellent series of articles on cellphone usage while driving. Yesterday, they reported on a newly released 18-month study of real-life driver distractions and their effect on accidents. Here's some excerpts:

————-

In Study, Texting Lifts Crash Risk by Large Margin
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/28/technology/28texting.html?ref=us
The first study of drivers texting inside their vehicles shows that the risk sharply exceeds previous estimates based on laboratory research — and far surpasses the dangers of other driving distractions.
The new study, which entailed outfitting the cabs of long-haul trucks with video cameras over 18 months, found that when the drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting.
Compared with other sources of driver distraction, “texting is in its own universe of risk,” said Rich Hanowski, who oversaw the study at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech institute, one of the world’s largest vehicle safety research organizations, said the study’s message was clear.
“You should never do this,” he said of texting while driving. “It should be illegal.”
————-

I spoke with Mr Hanowski today and he sent me the full study which indicates that most other distractions like talking to another person, eating, or even talking on a hands-free phone do not increase your chances of an accident.

I've been talking about the dangers of driving while texting ever since I was the first legislator in the country to introduce a bill to outlaw the practice. US Senators are now talking of banning it nationwide. If they are not successful, I will take up the cause once again next session.

Interestingly, Senator Al Melvin (R-Saddlebrooke) who took up my Driving While Texting (DWT) bill on his own this year (and failed) is telling the media that he would no longer want to ban DWT if that evil Federal Government decided to force Arizona to do it.

As quoted in the Arizona Capitol Times, he said, "If they've got these Democratic, liberal fingerprints all over it, I'm not going to be a party to that, I'm not." So much for the bipartisan lip service!

In the meantime, please don't text while driving and don't let your friends or family do it! We all need you safe and sound so we can fight for better leadership in our state!

Thanks for your dedication to change in Arizona,
Steve

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