LET THE GAMES BEGIN!
After Gov. Jan Brewer delivers her final State of the State address Monday, Jan. 13, the 51st Arizona Legislature will swing into gear for its second regular session.
While lawmakers will offer up plenty of surprises in the months to come, here are a few things to look forward to:
• A quick session: Many lawmakers are trying to either win reelection to their seats or go for a higher office in 2014, so they'd like to get done with business as soon as they can so they can hit the campaign trail. Look for them to try to wrap up the session by early May.
• Reform of Child Protective Services. With the damning reports late last year that more than 6,000 reports to CPS were essentially ignored, expect changes to the agency to be high on the agenda. Whether that means spinning it off into a separate agency or keeping it under the control of the Department of Economic Security, the real questions remain: Will lawmakers want to spend money on hiring enough caseworkers to thoroughly investigate claims—and will they be willing to spend money on the types of programs that prevent child abuse and neglect before it happens?
• Election reform: Last year, in the final hours of the session, Republicans pushed through House Bill 2305, an omnibus election overhaul that included provisions that made it a crime for campaign workers to gather early ballots, made it easier to kick people off the permanent early-ballot list, made it harder for citizens to run initiative campaigns and erected new barriers for third-party candidates to make the ballot. Opponents of the legislation stopped it from becoming law with a successful referendum campaign that will require voters to approve the law in November.
But Republicans could still try to find ways to alter the law in other ways in upcoming months to sideline the referendum, although if they do so, you can expect legal action from referendum supporters that will pave new legal ground.
• Education funding: Expect a big push for more K-12 programs, along with more funding for the universities and community colleges—all of which saw big cuts during the Great Recession.
• Transportation funding: Lawmakers have been diverting money away from the state's Highway User Revenue Fund for several years to patch up other areas in the budget. Local communities are griping about the state of the streets, so look for a push to stop raids on HURF funding.
• Campaign finance: The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that it's OK with last year's big boost in campaign finance limits, but there's still some housekeeping to fix problems with the sloppily written legislation. You can also expect an effort to transfer all the dollars for the Clean Elections program away from publicly funded political campaigns to education, which will need voter approval. And it's likely that Democrats will push for more disclosure laws of so-called political "dark money" that's being spent by non-profits, but the legislation is unlikely to go very far.
• Tax reform: There's a new push to create a flat tax in Arizona, or at least a flatter one that would move from Arizona's current five tax brackets to just three. The fundamental political problem: Going to a flat tax means that the top earners in Arizona would get a big break, while the bottom 90 percent would see a tax increase if the state keeps the tax collection revenue-neutral. Supporters of the flat tax are trying to avoid that result with a new package of tax credits that would ensure that a flat tax wouldn't cut taxes for Arizona's richest at the expense of everyone else, but that raises a question: If you're going to introduce a new, complicated credit and deduction program, what's the point of simplifying rates with a flat tax?
Democrat Terry Goddard, who has lost three statewide races for governor (1990, 1994 and 2010) and won two statewide races for attorney general (2002 and 2006), is taking aim at the Secretary of State's office.
Goddard announced on Facebook last week that "after many discussions and much serious thought, I have decided to run for Arizona Secretary of State. I love our State and can't stay on the sidelines when fair elections are at risk and dark money is polluting campaign financing."
Goddard's entrance into the race sets up a Democratic primary against state Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor.
Landrum Taylor, who was first elected to the Legislature in 1998, has reached her term limit in the Senate. She told The Skinny last month that she was tempted to "ride off into the sunset" but she decided "a lot more needs to be done, there's a lot more to give back ... and the office that came to mind was Secretary of State."
A three-way Republican primary is shaping up between extremely wealthy Wil Cardon (last seen losing big to Sen. Jeff Flake in 2012), state Sen. Michelle Reagan and state Rep. Justin Pearce.
A recall effort is in the works to unseat three members of the Pima Community College governing board.
Former state lawmaker Phil Lopes told The Skinny that paperwork was filed on Monday, Jan. 6, to begin the process of gathering signatures to knock Scott Stewart and Marty Cortez off the board. A recall effort against a third board member, David A. Longoria, is likely to start next month, according to Lopes.
PCC Board member Brenda Even isn't going to be targeted because she's up for reelection in November, so her political opponents will just try to defeat here then, Lopes said.
The effort won't be easy: Organizers will have 120 days to collect about 10,000 valid signatures to recall Cortez and 14,000 valid signatures to recall Stewart, according to Lopez.
PCC has had a troubling few years, culminating with the school being put on probation by the Higher Learning Commission, an accrediting agency. Much of the controversy occurred under the leadership of former chancellor Roy Flores, who resigned in 2012.
Lopes said a recall is necessary because "these people were responsible for putting Pima's accreditation in jeopardy. It was on their watch that things happened during the Flores era. We don't think they're taking care of the college or the community."
Longoria said while it was somewhat speculative to comment on the recall effort against him because it hadn't yet launched, he believes the board has taken steps in recent months to develop new policies and get the college off probation.
"The board as a whole has made great strides to gain back the trust we lost with some members of the community," Longoria said.
HARD TO BUY
Just enough space to mention that while it would be awesome to see action movie star Steven Seagal run for governor of Arizona, it's not gonna happen.
The Arizona Constitution requires that candidates for governor be a resident of Arizona for five years prior to Election Day. We're not sure where Seagal hangs his hat-like hair, but we're pretty sure it ain't Arizona.
And Seagal is only above the law in Hollywood.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch at daily.tucsonweekly.com
Jim Nintzel hosts AZ Illustrated Politics, airing at 6:30 p.m. every Friday on PBS 6. The program repeats on 12:30 a.m. Saturday.