Tuesday, May 10, 2016

We wrapped up with some wins this session and we’ll come back to fight for more next year

There was some shady business this legislative session. There is no doubt about that. But the Democrats in the House and the Senate stood strong for our values, and our priorities and we made some progress.

At the beginning of the session we outlined a plan to move Arizona forward, which focused on five key areas: public education, community support, public safety, economic development and responsible stewardship of our natural resources. By standing together, and holding the Republicans accountable, we fought for and gained something in almost all of these key areas. 

Public Education: We advocated for the restoration of funding for career and technical education programs, called JTEDS, that keep students in school and provide skilled-job training. Republicans cut the funding for these programs last year, but with the help of outspoken supporters across the state, we were able to get the money for the programs back within a few weeks of the start of the session. The University of Arizona also received $8 million in the budget; that money could be invested in the Large Animal Veterinary School.

Community: After a brutal political battle, we were able to restore funding for KidsCare, which will get health insurance for 30,000 low-income kids and put about $75 million into the state’s economy. We advocated for Arizona’s budget to include additional money for Department of Child Safety case managers, support services and preventative services, while requiring additional accountability measures. DCS remains in crisis, and ensuring the stability and effectiveness of this agency is a moral obligation.

Economy: We also championed economic development by calling for the accelerated construction on Highway 189 for the Mariposa Port of Entry to support trade with Mexico. And we supported job creation by protecting the Highway User Revenue Fund from budget sweeps, which is used to build and repair roads and bridges.

Natural Resources: Water is a vital resource in Arizona.  Ensuring its availability and quality is crucial to our economic future. Democrats worked to get money in the budget for Department of Water Resources to re-hire staff and for the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund.

#DemsLead despite the Chaos in the House

We were able to get a lot done this session, despite the lackluster leadership from the Republicans. But their political grandstanding and gamesmanship did prevent some good ideas from moving forward. Democrats found a way to restore the $116 million for classroom resources that Republicans cut last year, without raising taxes, but the majority party ignored that plan. We think Arizona students should be in classrooms that prepare them for an increasingly global economy. But apparently, Republicans would rather keep the per pupil funding at the bottom of the barrel and protect the status quo of outdated textbooks and crowded classrooms.  They decided to spend $5 million on Koch brother propaganda centers, called “economic freedom schools.” This is really distressing because the founding director of one of these centers has stated he wants to “get rid of public schools.”   

The Republicans also failed to show compassion for the state’s most vulnerable, in a year when we have the resources to do so. They refused to restore child care subsidies for low-income, working families and the 24-month cap on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which helps Arizona’s neediest families put food on the table. Most states offer this program for up to five years but currently in Arizona, families can only receive assistance for 12 months. Resources like this could prevent families from falling into crisis and entering the child welfare system.

This session was marked by a lack of leadership from the Republicans that created obstacles for public participation. Sadly, the governor and his Capitol cronies prioritized wealthy special interest tax breaks, private prisons and protecting dark money in elections above Arizona families. Democrats showed that, despite these challenges, we can be champions for education, job creation and our community. We will continue to fight for these priorities because #DemsLead

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