Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Dems back Ducey on fed tax conformity, oppose irresponsible tax cut while AZ education and infrastructure needs unmet

PHOENIX — Democratic members of the House Ways & Means Committee today backed Governor Ducey's efforts to fully conform with federal tax cuts, and opposed a Republican-sponsored bill to pass yet another irresponsible tax cut.

All four Democrats in the Ways & Means Committee opposed House Bill 2522, which passed along party lines. Rather than simply conforming with federal tax changes, the bill would further reduce state revenue at a time when public schools remain among the worst funded in the country and falling apart, along with our roads, bridges and other infrastructure that fuels commerce across the state.

Ranking Member Representative Mitzi Epstein introduced an amendment during today's committee meeting that would call for full conformity to the federal taxes, and no individual income tax bracket changes. It was defeated along party lines.

Comments from Democratic committee members:
Mitzi Epstein, Ranking Member, D-Tempe
"My amendment would bring us back to simple conformity. It’s fiscally responsible and helps working Arizonans. We should conform, and the sooner we conform to federal tax laws, the better for all tax payers. Our wonderful CPAs will breathe a deep sigh of relief and our taxpayers will be happy because they can just go ahead and file. I know they are jumping the gun out there – they want to get their taxes in. My amendment will allow them to simply get their taxes in and taxes done. Then further changes or tax rates and so on can be part of the budget negotiation, and Arizonans will have time to speak up and be heard.”  
Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson
“I have lived in Arizona for 37 years and I 've seen this movie before. Many times, in the past, when we have had extra funds, the Arizona Legislature has cut taxes-- rather than investing in schools or roads or saving the funds for a rainy day. I believe that we should do full tax conformity and discuss how to invest these funds to the benefit of all Arizonans and not just give tax cuts to the wealthy.”
Andres Cano, D-Tucson
“Regrettably, Arizona’s legislature is continuing down the same road: more tax cuts for Arizona’s millionaires and billionaires. I agree with Governor Ducey: we should fully conform to the federal tax code with no stipulations, as we’ve done every year. This legislation ultimately harms our ability to fund our schools, healthcare, and crumbling infrastructure. We must demand better so that all Arizonans pay their fair share.”
Lorenzo Sierra, D-Avondale
“I am of the belief that Arizonans know how best to invest their money. That said, I join the hard-working people of Legislative District 19 and the people of Arizona in asking the Legislature to invest in the things that matter most to us: education, healthcare and infrastructure. I join my caucus and the Governor in supporting straight tax conformity.”

Additional background:
  • According to the Grand Canyon Institute, “Conformity with federal tax changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), enacted in December 2017, would enable the state to increase state revenues by approximately $200 million annually, about a two-percent increase.”
  • Also, full conformity will “improve revenues by about $200 million and the cost will almost completely be borne by individuals who gained the most from TJCA reforms, those with household incomes in the top one percent of the state’s income brackets. Most Arizonans will be able to enjoy the benefits of the added revenue infusion and bear little of the cost.”

Legislative Democrats Blueprint for a Better Arizona

Friday, January 18, 2019

Democratic Leaders Respond to Ducey Budget Plan

PHOENIX, State Capitol – Senate Democratic Leader David Bradley and House Democratic Leader Charlene Fernandez released this statement on Gov. Ducey's budget proposal issued today

"Governor Ducey takes several steps in the right direction with this budget, incorporating a number of Democratic ideas from past sessions. With public sentiment strongly in support of the inspiring Red for Ed movement, and following an election that saw the Republican majority shrink, it's clear the Governor will need Democratic votes to pass his plan. While making moves in the right direction, his budget is still wanting for a sustainable path to fully fund public education, reduce class sizes and bring teacher pay to the national average. We've presented our blueprint for Arizona and this is the governor's blueprint. Now it's time for us to find the common ground where we can get real work done. The key to success for hard-working Arizona families who are counting on us lies in working together, which must begin today, not at the end of an otherwise Republican-only process as it has in years past. It's a new day, we share the same love for our state and its people, so let's get to work."

Democrats will provide more detailed analysis and questions as we spend more time with the governor's plan, but initial takeaways include:

  • K-12. We are happy to see funding for the School Facilities Board shored up and returning new school construction to a three-year model. We applaud another Democratic idea, funding the Teachers Academy to improve recruitment. We must work together to deliver a tangible second step toward retaining existing teachers, to holistically address capital needs and provide a sustainable long-term funding solution.

  • The Rainy Day Fund. With a $1.1 billion available, it is responsible to put a significant portion away in the Rainy Day Fund up to the statutory cap of 7 percent of the general fund (an additional $260 million). But to increase it to $1 billion while the state still has crumbling schools, roads in need of repair and other critical infrastructure needs that will go unmet makes no sense.
  • Charter school reform. Hiring more Charter Board staff is good but will do nothing to stop the corruption, self-dealing and conflicts of interest that have outraged the public unless we also pass true accountability reform. We hope the Governor is ready to work on real reforms, which he shied away from in his State of the State speech.
  • School safety and reducing gun violence. The governor made no policy suggestions to keep weapons of mass murder out of dangerous hands. His proposal puts the majority of "school safety" funds toward school resource officers rather than counselors and social workers. The funds should be combined so that schools may apply for the best-suited solution for their students.

Senate Democratic Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson:

“There are many things in this budget that reflect the Democratic ideals we’ve espoused over the years, so we’re thankful. It’s also good that Governor Ducey understands that the economy moves in cycles and is willing to save for the next downturn. But there are critical needs facing the state, not in his budget, that would be more cost effective to address now rather than squirrel away into the Rainy Day Fund. You don’t save money by not fixing a leaky roof because you’ll eventually have to pay to have the whole roof replaced later.

“Let’s work together to find long-term sustainable funding for education, social services, public safety and infrastructure so we can put the days of budget gimmicks behind us. To do that we must be willing to put all revenue sources on the table, starting with the billions we give away in corporate tax cuts.”

House Democratic Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma:

"This budget contains many Democratic proposals from past years – like increasing childcare subsidies, covering tuition for National Guard members, restoring cuts to career and technical education, and increasing school counselors for example – so it seems like this past election has impacted the Governor's thinking. However, we still don't see a clear second step to reducing the teacher retention crisis, and no restoration of cuts to our community colleges and universities. That will hold back our long-term economic competitiveness. And his proposal to add more investigators to the Charter School Board will mean nothing if we don't also reform the procurement irregularities, self-dealing and conflicts of interest at the same time. We are ready to work with the Governor to improve and move this plan forward. We should start right away because he will need Democratic votes to pass it."


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Cano introduces legislation to fund Arizona’s community colleges and increase STEM funding

PHOENIX— Rep. AndrĂ©s Cano, D-Tucson, today introduced legislation to restore funding to all of Arizona’s community colleges, increasing appropriations for Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics fields throughout Arizona.

House Bill 2268 will allocate $21 million from the general fund in the 2020 budget to restore cuts to Pima and Maricopa Community Colleges, in addition a $5 million increase to S.T.E.M. funding and workforce programs to community colleges throughout the state.

“Arizona’s path to creating jobs and economic prosperity is directly correlated with fully-funding our community colleges,” Cano said. “This bill prioritizes workforce development and the gaps where Arizonans can have an opportunity to thrive, and to prosper.”

Overall, state funding for community colleges is $114 million less now than it was in 2008, a 66 percent drop.