Farley Report: Private School Tuition Program Bill Creates "An Inability to Detect Fraud Until the Situation Escalates Out of Control and the Inability To Do Anything About The Fraud"

The latest bulletin from Rep. Steve Farley:

Howdy, Friends O'Farley…

Let's imagine for a moment the scene in the underground bunker here at the Capitol where the far-right wingers who control this place are plotting their next moves. They haven't balanced the budget yet. Times are still really hard. People are really getting angry at how our state is heading for even worse trouble thanks to their lack of action on fixing our fiscal house. Some are worrying that after 44 years in power, the voters might finally turn against them.

What's their next move? Based on debate on the floor yesterday, the Republicans have decided to go for the tried-and-true strategy of using the power of government to attack someone else. This time, it's gay and lesbian people, along with single women of all kinds, and foster kids.

Apparently it wasn't enough for them to enshrine discrimination in the state constitution by banning loving couples from marriage. Warde Nichols (R-Gilbert) is pushing a bill (HB2148) to ban them from adopting kids, too.

While the intent of this bill is clearly discrimination against LGBT

citizens of Arizona, there's a lot of other collateral damage along the way. Currently, law requires that judges use as their primary consideration the "best interests of the child" when providing placement. HB2148 requires that all adoption agencies give "primary consideration to placement with a married couple."

That means that single heterosexual women are left out, too, even though single women adopt one-third of all foster kids, and those women are more likely to adopt the kids who are hardest to place with families, especially older kids.

Bottom line is, if this bill passes more kids will stay in the foster system for longer periods of time, even as loving families of all kinds are doing everything they can to bring them home. The best interests of ideological extremism appears to trump the best interests of kids every time, when legislative Republicans are calling the shots.

Meanwhile, all Arizona kids are gearing up for more cuts to our public schools. What are Republicans doing about that? Apparently their solution is to dramatically increase the private school voucher program that has been providing huge tax breaks for rich families to send their kids to private schools on the public dime.

Yesterday in Ways & Means, we heard even more bills that would expand this STO voucher program, one of which (HB2660) would triple the individual contributions to $1500 in tax credits per person. Since our Arizona income taxes are the lowest in the country out of all states that charge income tax, if you owe $1500 in Arizona taxes in the first place, you are truly rich. Do the rich need more tax giveaways right now?

The additional hole in the general fund caused by this would be huge. But Republicans claim that every kid moved to private school saves the government the money it costs to educate that child. They claim by giving away these tax breaks for the rich and eliminating that money from our general fund, we can balance the budget!

This is the same magical thinking exhibited by Reaganomics guru Art Laffer and Republican followers who claim that cutting taxes will paradoxically increase tax revenues.

Apparently, the thought is that if we get rid of all public schools, we can solve the budget crisis and all kids will go to private schools. No word on how we will all pay for those $20,000 annual tuition charges per kid.

One surprising thing happened during debate on a bill (HB2496) to allow these tax credits to be claimed by taxpayers all the way through April 15, while taking it off their taxes for the year ending on the previous December 31. ChamBria Henderson, the executive director of the third-largest STO in the state, the Arizona Scholarship Fund — one of the main organizations that profits from these tax credits — sent all committee members an email that absolutely slammed the bill.

She quoted former Speaker Mark Killian (R-Mesa) talking about this April 15 proposal many years ago. He said, "due to the instability of donations being received after 12/31 and the probability of increased fraud, there would be an inability on the part of the State to make valid projections regarding the legislative budgeting process, an inability to detect fraud until the situation escalates out of control and the inability to do anything about the fraud. The Arizona law would also be out of alignment with federal tax code."

Ms Henderson, who — this must be repeated — runs one of the largest organizations that funnels these voucher programs to private schools, concluded, "the leadership of Arizona Scholarship Fund is concerned about the lack of checks and balances in the current proposal. We are concerned about the incentive for tax fraud that is inherent in the proposal. We are concerned the proposal will create taxpayer confusion, reporting confusion, revenue projecting confusion and ultimately "Fraud & Abuse" headlines that could shut the program down. I urge members of this Committee to look beyond the instant gratification of "more money" and resolve the very real issues before proceeding."

I read her entire email to the rest of the committee. Even after hearing this damning testimony, Chairman Rick Murphy dismissed her as "just one person" and all the Republicans proceeded to pass the bill out of committee and onto the floor without responding to her concerns in any way. When you have the votes, I guess you don't need to listen to those who disagree. Even if they are your friends.

Last Thursday, on a much less substantial bill, that hardened partisanship shown by the Republicans was laid particularly bare. David Gowan (R-Green Valley) had a bill in the Committee of the Whole that would offer reduced-price fishing licenses to Eagle Scouts. As the father of two daughters, and as someone who likes fishing with them, I introduced a bill to also offer reduced-price fishing licenses to Girl Scouts.

I spoke of how I still remember the first time I caught a fish, and how two years ago I brought my daughters to that same creek and they caught their first fish. I asked why girls shouldn't also have access to the same joy as boys as they are introduced to fishing.

Republican members smiled and nodded their heads as I talked. This was as non-partisan an amendment as I could imagine.

I imagined wrong. When the vote was called, not a single Republican stood up to support my amendment.

If Republicans can't even work with Democrats on helping Girl Scouts gain access to fishing licenses, how the heck are we going to work together on the budget?

At least one bipartisan thing happened this week — my bill to ban driving while texting (SB1334) finally cleared a Senate committee unanimously.

Al Melvin (R-Saddlebrook) is running the bill under his name, but I have been working closely with him to get it through this time. The coalition that signed in to support the bill is truly impressive, and a bit different from the first time I introduced the bill in January 2007: Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers, AAA Arizona, AT&T, Professional Firefighters of AZ, Arizona Medical Association, Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, Verizon Wireless, Farmers Insurance, State Farm, Sprint, Scottsdale Healthcare Level I Trauma Center, AZ Highway Patrol Association, AZ Department of Public Safety, American Academy of Family Physicians, Cox Communications, and USAA.

There's a long way to go, but the power is on our side this time. Our roads will be safer soon.

Two final things tonight:

—> Please come discuss the legislative issues of the day with me at my first "FROZEN YOGURT WITH FARLEY" event this Saturday, February 20, from 3-4pm at BTO Frozen Yogurt, 2721 E. Speedway, a couple of blocks east of Tucson Blvd.

—> I am not at liberty to reveal any details at this time, but I can point you to an interesting article from today's Star, and tell you that I will be in Tucson on Thursday morning. Tune in on Thursday, and I believe you will find some VERY good news for Tucson. I will post the news on Facebook & Twitter when I can if you want to find me there.