Monday, July 25, 2016

Why Are Republicans Pouring More Money into For-Profit, Private Prisons?

Arizona Republican leaders continue to pour money into the for-profit, private prison industry, although Arizonans have stated clearly they want more #SchoolsNotPrisons. Earlier this month, the state increased its reliance on private prisons and began moving inmates into a newly expanded facility in Eloy. This move, which could cost the taxpayers up to about $24 million annually, will fund 1,000 new beds in the private prison—beds the state is promising to keep at least 90 percent full. 

Republican leaders are handing over a total of about $168 million this year to for-profit, private prisons operators, although it is difficult to determine whether these facilities are saving the state money. Republican legislators outlawed cost comparisons in 2012, but prior to that, reports indicated that private prisons weren’t actually saving money. In 2010, the Department of Corrections showed that daily per capita cost of prisoners in private prisons was almost 10 percent higher than those in state prisons.

Arizona has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report.  Republicans here are spending more on the Department of Corrections than on universities. House Democrats have been and will continue pushing for more oversight, transparency and accountability within the corrections system. One of our proposals is to have the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission study the current system and make reform recommendations. Additionally, the Joint Select Committee on Corrections should be immediately reinstated so that it can provide Legislative oversight of the DOC and of private prisons. None of this would cost the state a dime.

Prison reform should be a bipartisan issue. We should be investing in our schools, so that our students have the resources they need to prepare for high-quality jobs. And so that qualified teachers stop “fleeing Arizona in droves.” Democrats agree that the priority is #EducationNotIncarceration.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Another Shameful Headline

Another headline that Republicans should be ashamed of – a new report from the U.S. Department of Education shows that Arizona has been spending more on inmates than on students for about 30 years.

In fact, Arizona spent only $3,573 per student in K-12 schools but invested $23,441 for every inmate in 2015. This seems to be more evidence that Republican leadership in Arizona is more focused on incarceration than on education. 

Even after voters approved Prop. 123, ensuring that public schools get some of the money Republicans illegally withheld from them, the money being distributed to schools will not be enough to pull per pupil spending in Arizona up from the bottom of the barrel nationally.  It will still leave schools short $1.2 billion each year. And it will do very little to bridge the enormous gap between student and prisoner funding. The governor has promised over and over again that Prop. 123 was a first step, but he’s failed to offer any information about what his next step is.

Despite the governor’s lack of leadership, AZ Schools Now, a growing coalition of education and community groups, is calling for a long-term, sustainable revenue plan for education that will focus on three key areas:

  • Restoring funding for classroom supplies, updated technology and textbooks. This would require restoring district additional assistance.
  • Sustaining a workforce of quality, certified and caring teachers in the classroom by investing in competitive salaries and professional development.
  • Restoring capital funding to give our students schools and classrooms that are safe, clean and functional places to learn.
The governor and Republican leadership at the Capitol must listen to what Arizonans are saying over and over – we want #EducationNotIncarceration. House Democrats will continue to push this as a priority until our students receive the resources needed to ensure they get a quality education. 


Monday, July 11, 2016

It's Past Time to Step Up

This month, Arizona left some 955 poor families—and their 1,660 children—with a little less money to put food on the table. In a striking example of how badly misplaced Gov. Ducey’s and Legislative Republican’s priorities are, the cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program they passed last year became effective on the same day as $138 million in new business tax cuts.

In 2015, when Legislative Republicans proposed reducing TANF benefits from a lifetime limit of 24 months down to 12 months, they argued that the state simply did not have enough money to maintain the program. That argument made little sense at the time, when the cut was expected to save $9 million, and it makes even less sense now that it looks like the cut will actually only save $4 million; especially considering that the very same Republicans who made that argument passed more than $100 million in tax cuts that year, and more since then. In truth, the budget did not force the Republicans’ hands. They simply decided to finance their priorities (wealthy special interests) on the backs of Arizona’s most vulnerable families, which get an average of less than $300 per month in TANF benefits.

As a columnist for the Arizona Republic recently wrote, “What the Legislature actually is telling such families – moms, dads and children – is: ‘We don’t care about you.’” It’s not easy to see how the message could be anything else. Are Legislative Republicans and Gov. Ducey really not willing to spend $4 million, out of the state’s $9 billion budget, to help a few poor families feed their children for another 12 months?

The small amount of money a family in need receives from TANF benefits can sometimes keep them out of crisis and help prevent more children from entering the DCS system—a system that has been overburdened and plagued by mismanagement. Just last week, the agency was held in contempt of court over its failure to provide adequate services.  It’s past time for the Legislature to step up and really help the most vulnerable Arizonans, not cast them aside.


Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Building Toward the Future

Since the very start of 2016, Democrats have been calling for smart investments in projects that will create jobs and strengthen the economy.  Our plan included money to accelerate the construction on Highway 189 for the Mariposa Port of Entry between the U.S. and Mexico.

It is one of the busiest ports in the country and Mexico remains a major trade partner with Arizona.  In 2015, trade between Arizona and Mexico reached nearly $17 billion and it supported around 100,000 Arizona jobs. Investing in projects that will create jobs and strengthen Arizona’s economic competitiveness makes sense and we helped get $25 million for this port expansion in the budget. At the same time we protected the Highway User Revenue Fund from budget sweeps, because this money is used to build and repair roads and bridges. The State Transportation Board recently approved additional funding for Mariposa Port of Entry project and construction, which was scheduled to start in 2021, will now begin in 2019.

The improved conditions at the port will not only support trade between Arizona and Mexico, but it could also help tourism. Last year, people visiting Arizona from Mexico spent nearly $8 billion here. To put that into perspective, the state’s entire budget is about $9.5 billion a year.

During a recent visit to the United States, Mexico’s Minister of Tourism Enrique de la Madrid noted that trade and tourism are important factors in Arizona’s relationship with Mexico. He added that Arizona’s exports to Mexico comprise 40 percent of the state’s global exports. Democrats have long recognized the importance of Arizona’s connection to Mexico and will continue to support projects and investments that support smart, regional, economic development. It’s part of an overall plan that Democrats have been promoting to push your priorities at the state Capitol.  We’ll make sure your voice is heard.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Hale applauds Supreme Court decision to uphold tribal court jurisdiction but warns of continued attacks on sovereignty

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX Last week, on a 4-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court failed to overturn a lower court decision in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, effectively upholding the Court of Appeals’ decision that Indian nation courts have civil jurisdiction over non-tribal members within their borders.

Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), applauded the decision but cautioned that the jurisdiction of Native American nation courts is still under attack on many fronts.

"There are cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that would undermine the sovereignty of Indian nation courts and the sovereignty of Indian nations in general," Hale said. "In this decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Indian nations are sovereign, but each of the pending cases represents a threat to the sovereignty and stability of every Indian nation. They whittle away at Indian nation court jurisdiction and the sovereignty Indian nations had before non-Indians first set foot on the Americas. Maintaining that jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters involving non-tribal members and non-Native Americans is essential to protecting the rights of victims on Indian lands.”

Hale explained that in this case, a tribal member, a minor, was sexually abused by a non-Indian employee of Dollar General. The abuse occurred on the Indian reservation, and the Indian nation court ruled in favor of the minor.

This is a clear example of the importance of Native American courts, according to Hale.

"The victim has the right to recourse in his or her own home area. And Indian nations, like all sovereign entities, have the authority to enforce their laws and maintain order within their borders. They have the power to protect everyone’s rights within their borders, and provide courts where legal action can be taken against anyone who violates the rights of others.

"These attacks on Indian nation court jurisdiction will force Indian nations to more heavily regulate the influx of non-members onto their lands," Hale said. "That could create long lines at the borders and complicate efforts to provide services and promote tourism and economic development on Native American lands.

"I was appalled that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich submitted an amicus brief against upholding the jurisdiction of Indian nation courts on this issue," Hale said of an action the Brnovich took last year intervening in the case, not on the side of the Indian nation and the victim, but on the side of those wishing to strip the Indian nation court of its inherent jurisdiction. Hale sent Brnovich a letter in September 2015 urging him to withdraw the amicus brief he filed in the case. The full letter is below.

"As Arizona’s attorney general, Brnovich represents all of the people who live in this state - including Native Americans. He should support victims and Indian nation court sovereignty," Hale said.

Rep. Hale is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He was born in Ganado and raised in Klagetoh, Arizona. He is Ashiihi (Salt), born for Todichiini (Bitter Water). His maternal grandparents are Hanaghani (Walk About clan). His paternal grandparents are Kiyanii (Tall House clan). He is a 1969 graduate of Fort Wingate High School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school located east of Gallup, New Mexico. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (1973), and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1977), and an honorary Juris Doctor degree from Phoenix School of Law (2012).  He is the former President of the Navajo Nation. He served four terms in the Arizona state Senate.


This Fourth of July

As the Fourth of July approaches, now is a great time to reflect on the qualities that make our state and country great. Education is certainly one of them. And in fact, education is enshrined as a core, foundational principle in Arizona’s constitution.

The framers of our state constitution knew that education would make Arizona strong, and so they required that, from kindergarten to college, it would always be available. Yet Arizona’s public schools have struggled with underfunding for decades. This year, voters narrowly passed Prop. 123 as the best available option for supporting our school districts. But they did so because Gov. Ducey promised that it was only the first step in restoring public education funding and that other steps would soon follow.

More than a month after that election, though, Gov. Ducey has made no indication he plans to follow through. House Democrats, on the other hand, are working tirelessly with the AZ Schools Now Coalition to enact meaningful next steps. We know that Arizonans overwhelmingly prioritize public education funding, and that is why Democrats have always been the champions of this issue. Arizona’s constitution demands that the legislature appropriately fund public education. Arizonans demand that the legislature appropriately fund public education.

And sadly, public K-12 schools are not the only ones left out in the cold by Legislative Republicans. Our constitution also says that higher education should be “as nearly free as possible.” But tuition costs at Arizona’s universities have been rising for years and have been above the national average for public universities for the last several years. This year, House Democrats proposed a simple measure to give Arizona’s public universities an extra $50 million to help lower tuition. Legislative Republicans rejected that plan in favor of funding for Koch Brother propaganda programs and chose not to ease the economic burden our university students face. Their priorities do not respect our constitution’s demand for low-cost higher education; they undermine it.

Gov. Ducey and Legislative Republicans have failed Arizona’s schools at every level. This Fourth of July, while we celebrate our freedom, our independence, and even our greatness, let’s remember how we got here. It’s time to really put education first.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Public Schools Not Private Prisons

This year, Arizonans have shown beyond any doubt that they prioritize education and that they want state leaders to do the same. But a Department of Corrections proposal approved by a legislative committee last week suggests that Republicans’ priorities are still all wrong.

Arizona now plans to purchase the private prison in Kingman from GEO Group, the company that took the facility over after inmate riots last summer. Arizona plans to pay $137.4 million, refinance the debt at a much lower interest rate, and then continue to contract with GEO Group to operate the prison. According to the DOC, paying off the prison will cost taxpayers $77.5 million less if Arizona holds the debt than if GEO Group continues to. That is a big win for Arizona taxpayers, who are burdened by a bloated prison system.

But the Kingman plan, proposed by a Republican administration and approved by a majority-Republican oversight committee, also poses a serious question: are private prisons actually more expensive than public prisons?

Until Republican legislators in 2012 outlawed cost comparisons, data consistently demonstrate that, yes, private prisons are more expensive than public prisons. In 2010, the Department of Corrections reported that the daily per capita cost of prisoners in private prisons was almost 10 percent higher than for those in state prisons. It seems like Republican legislators did not like the truth, so they made up their own. And the chief justification for spending millions of dollars every year on private prisons has continued to be that they save Arizona money.

Despite appearing to acknowledge that public prisons are more cost-effective, however, the Kingman plan is still bad for Arizona tax payers; and for Arizona’s corrections officers. Because Gov. Ducey intends to use more than $2 million of the yearly savings—that is, taxpayer money—to subsidize the salaries of GEO Group’s prison guards.

That bears repeating: Gov. Ducey wants to use public, taxpayer dollars to increase the salaries of private prison guards—guards employed by a multi-billion dollar company that made nearly $140 million in profits last year. Public corrections officers, meanwhile, have gone without pay raises for nine years. Democrats tried to remove the salary subsidies from the Kingman plan, but Republican legislators were insistent on funneling $2 million of public money to GEO Group.

The Kingman plan shows the wrong priorities for Arizona. Maybe that has something to do with the $55,000 that GEO Group gave to Gov. Ducey’s 2014 campaign. Maybe it doesn’t. But either way, taxpayer money should not go to line the pockets of large, out-of-state companies.

And Republican leaders in Arizona should get back to championing the causes Arizonans prioritize. Arizonans have demanded education, not incarceration. House Democrats have listened, and share your priorities.