Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Senate Democratic Budget Press Conference

Transcript of remarks:

Senator Martin Quezada
Thank you for joining us today.

Since day one of this long legislative session, we have made clear our priorities are with Arizona families, students, businesses and our most vulnerable. We believe there is an important role for government to play in the lives of Arizonans and poll after poll show they are willing to invest in our shared priorities.

Democrats have always stood for our public schools. From the recession days when classroom funding was slashed to the lowest in the nation, through last year’s 20 by 2020 and now - we are still fighting for full restoration of education funding in Arizona.

Arizona students are sitting in overcrowded classrooms, using outdated textbooks and technology, and lack basic school supplies. Many students do not have a permanent or prepared teacher and are likely missing a nurse, counselor, or librarian.

Despite 20 by 2020 and the infusion to District and Charter Additional Assistance that was made last year – funding for K-12 is still far below 2008 levels. When adjusted for inflation, the state funds every student at $947 dollars less than we did in 2008.

Our schools are still experiencing a severe teacher shortage; as school gets out for the summer, districts are already unsure how they will fill teaching positions before the start of the next school year.

This year alone, there were over 7,000 teacher openings – half of these positions were filled by individuals that do not meet our standard teacher requirements.

Our proposed budget accelerates the restoration of District Additional Assistance by appropriating $150 million to accelerate the restoration of DAA.

Previous cuts to DAA have significantly hampered public schools’ ability to provide up to date curriculum, materials and technology for their students since 2009. Over that decade our economy has grown and our population has increased by over half a million people.

Even with the $95 million that was restored in last year's budget, the current suspension to DAA is still $193 million. Democrats are proposing to make whole approximately 78% of this suspension by allocating $150 million in our budget.

We were encouraged to see funding for additional school counselors in the governor's executive budget. But the need is far greater than his proposal.

Arizona's student to counselor ratio is the worst in the nation, with 905 students for every one school counselor. That is why we are calling for $20 million to be allocated for school counselors and social workers, lowering the ratio to approximately 373 students per counselor.

While this will not address all our school safety needs, this would be a critical step in ensuring the social-emotional needs of all children.

Arizona's tribal leaders have for years been requesting additional help in the Office of Indian Education, which serves as a liaison between tribal schools and outside agencies to provide resources for Native American students to meet their educational and cultural needs.

Our budget allows the Department of Education to add four full-time staff to its existing staff of one full-time and one part-time. It's time we prioritize the education of our Native American students.

The allocations made towards K-12 education in our budget represent what Arizonans have demanded time and time again: fund our schools properly. 88% of Arizonans believe there is a need for additional funding for our public schools and voters support investments in education.

Our budget reflects the values of Arizonans by putting education first.

And now I’d like to introduce Senator Lela Alston to talk about state revenues.

Senator Lela Alston
Since the Great Recession, Republicans, have enacted austerity budget after austerity budget. Education, infrastructure and social services have been hit especially hard by the budget cuts over the last decade.

After years of minimal funding for critical state services, Republicans are again proposing a massive and permanent $386 million dollar tax cut. Using the Trump tax cuts as an excuse, Republicans are cutting taxes far more than the state would otherwise realize in increased revenue from straight conformity.

In reality, the issue of conformity is simply a shift of tax revenue; dollars that used to go to Washington are now paid to Arizona. These revenues should be used for Arizona priorities like education, the homeless crisis, infrastructure, health care and support for the elderly and disabled.

This year, Arizona has a $840 million dollars in one-time revenue in the budget. This is due to a combination of a healthy economy and deliberate cuts to state government over the past decade.

But rather than invest in key services like education and infrastructure, Republicans want to permanently reduce Arizona's ability to raise revenue.  These tax policy choices are making Arizona's revenue structure less progressive and increasing the tax burden on the poor and middle class.

The Republican claim that this tax cut is offset by updating our TPT statutes to the Supreme Court decision in Wayfair v South Dakota does not pass the smell test.  This is tax revenue that is already owed to the state but is not being paid due to lack of enforcement.

Wayfair should have been the easiest policy decision for the Legislature to make, because it finally would create tax fairness with in-state and out-of-state retailers.  However, the Republicans have decided to tie this policy with a gift for "Online Marketplaces," which serve as middle-men by aggregating products offered from multiple online retailers.

By codifying the "online marketplace" in Arizona law, Republicans are giving away a special relief from tax liability of 8% over the next 2 years. Additionally, any marketplaces that already operate in Arizona will be forgiven any past tax liability for third party transactions that were conducted through their marketplace platform.  I'm sure Arizona's true local businesses would love a similar deal.

Arizona does not need another massive tax cut.  We need better schools for ALL of our children, we need to repair our crumbling highways, roads and bridges, and we need working locks in our prisons and funding to help our most vulnerable populations.

The Republican budget, and their $386 million dollar tax cut, rewards wealthy farmers, commercial real estate developers and big out-of-state tech.

Apparently, cutting over $5 billion dollars in annual tax revenue over the last 30 years hasn't been enough. We can't forget – in Arizona it takes a simple majority to give away state revenue but it takes two-thirds, and political courage, to restore it.

Now I’ll turn it over to Senator Sean Bowie to discuss the importance of investing in Higher Education.

Senator Sean Bowie
The budget that we have put together prioritizes and makes a critical investment in higher education – for both our public universities and community colleges.

We believe making a commitment to fund our state universities beyond providing "one-time" investments is the best way to ensure tuition costs remain as low and as stable as possible.

Per student funding for Arizona universities is 56% below 2008 levels – this equates to $3,742 cut in per-student funding and has shifted costs from the state to students and their families.

Our budget also begins to address the severe physician shortage that Arizona faces by funding an increase in the UofA medical school's capacity to educate students in medicine.

Arizona is the 4th fastest growing state in the country and in order to remain competitive, we need and should do all that we can to enhance Arizona's economic health by providing skilled workers for high-demand careers in healthcare, public safety, IT, business and manufacturing – our community colleges are key to building that workforce.

In 2015, along with a $99 million cut to universities, the legislature completely zeroed out Maricopa and Pima Community College Districts from Operating State Aid and from STEM and Workforce funding – and we have failed to restore their funding since then

Our budget proposes a 5-year phase-in to restore Maricopa and Pima's operating state aid, with a $15.4 million infusion every year, until full restoration is complete.

Additionally, we are proposing to fully restore funding to Maricopa and Pima's STEM and Workforce programs immediately.

Funding for our two largest community college districts – specifically their STEM and Workforce state aid is vital to the keep pace with the growth of our state

Our responsible and pragmatic budget makes a long-term investment in higher-education that has not been seen in previous budgets because the best way to see future economic success in Arizona is to have a highly skilled workforce.

Now I’d like to welcome Senator Rebecca Rios up to explain the crisis of homelessness and how our budget invests in Arizona families.

Senator Rebecca Rios
Homelessness in Arizona is at a crisis point.

Currently, there are over 36,000 homeless people in Arizona, of which 37% are families, usually a single mom with children. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education reported almost 25,000 public school students experienced homelessness during the 2016-2017
school year.

That is why we are making complete restoration of the State Housing Trust Fund a cornerstone of our budget with a $50 million dollar deposit in Fiscal Year 2020 and $40 million annually thereafter.

Created in 1988, the Housing Trust Fund represents the only state monies solely dedicated to Arizona's housing needs. During the Great Recession its funding was slashed to just $2.5 million dollars and hasn’t seen an increase since.

Arizona’s wonderful non-profits that provide critical services and housing for our homeless rely on the Fund for grants to keep their services going. But as the Fund was cut, so was their ability to help our most vulnerable Arizonans.

Investing in the Housing Trust Fund both sees federal dollars return to Arizona, it also encourages private investment in low-income housing. In fact, according to the Arizona Housing Coalition, for every $10 million dollars invested in the Fund, these is the potential for $23 million dollars in economic impact and the creation of 200 jobs annually.

We must not only invest in getting our homeless off the streets, we must also invest in our children and working families.

Relatives, usually grandparents, are the first choice of placement by DCS. In fact, 43% of children in DCS custody are placed with Kinship families. These kinship families step up during times of crisis to care for often traumatized children who have been separated from their parents.  

However, despite similar expenses, kinship caregivers do not receive the same financial support as licensed foster parents who on average receive $700 per month.

That is why our budget appropriates almost $15 million dollars to DCS in Fiscal Year 2020 from the General Fund to increase the Kinship Care Stipend from $75 to $250 dollars per month and streamline the TANF child-only application process which will provide an additional $164 dollar monthly benefit per child in kinship care.

In addition to the Housing Trust Fund and Kinship Care, our budget invests in Arizona families by:

   Investing $3 million dollars to DCS for the Healthy Families Prevention Program, which provides services to pregnant women and families with newborns who have multiple stressors and risk factors that increase the likelihood that a child will suffer abuse or neglect.

   Eliminating the statutory KidsCare enrollment freeze and appropriating $1.6 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2020 to AHCCCS to cover the reduction in federal funds, providing over 30,000 working families affordable health insurance for their children.

   Granting immediate authority for DES and DCS to utilize $112 million dollars in federal Child Care Development Fund monies to subsidize child care for low income working families.

   Appropriating $1.5 million dollars to DES for the development of a statewide 2-1-1 information and referral service for health care services, community services, human services, and governmental services.

We can’t succeed as a state if we don’t ensure our children and struggling families have the resources available to help them get back on their feet and focus on their education and careers. That’s the only way we break the cycle of poverty and homelessness in Arizona. And that’s why our budget makes meaningful investments toward this noble goal.

Finally, I’m proud to introduce our Senate Democratic Leader David Bradley to wrap things up.

Senator David Bradley
Thank you, Senators Quezada, Alston, Bowie and Rios and all the members of the Senate here today.

In his State of the State Address on opening day of this session, Governor Ducey announced his desire to work with Democrats on good ideas. Let me quote from that speech:

“Leaders Fernandez and Bradley — I’m looking forward to working together. I think we can all agree, there’s plenty of opportunities to find common ground.

He continued:

“Bipartisanship is a word that gets tossed around a lot. And today, it seems everyone has their own definition. So let me be clear on the approach I intend to take. I’m not here just to work with Republicans on Republican ideas. And bipartisanship doesn’t simply mean working with Democrats on Democratic ideas. I’m here as governor of all the people to work with all of you on good ideas.”

On that day as well, both Democratic Caucuses announced our desire to work with our Republican colleagues on good ideas, and we’ve seen some results of that good will.

Senator Bowie’s suicide prevention bill was a classic example of a good idea that found broad bipartisan support.

Senator Brophy McGee carried our long-fought texting ban, which will save countless lives.

And the Drought Contingency Plan was a well-researched and thoroughly negotiated solution to an issue of critical importance to our state.

Unfortunately, that spirit of collaboration stopped, as it has done, year after year at the budget door. 

Many weeks ago our caucus broached the idea with the majority leadership of the Senate of sitting down to craft a budget that appeals to lawmakers of both parties and serves the best interests of Arizona.

It appears that some of our ideas were incorporated perhaps on the premise that fulfilling a series of small requests of the Minority will achieve our silence and consent.  Placating is not negotiating.
That is not the making of a deal.

It is an approach that fails to incorporate what the governor himself asserted 127 days ago that bipartisanship means working together in common cause and purpose.

We have been respectfully but consistently knocking on the closed budget doors.  We have done so without criticism or leaking contrary documents or opinions.

We are still outside the door, ready and willing to negotiate but we can no longer be silent and be clear we do not consent to the budget as it was presented today.

Our Democratic budget is by no means perfect. It does not meet every need, fulfill every request or solve every problem that has festered for years.

Decades of tax cuts, predicated, not on thoughtful strategies, but on faulty ideologies, that resources would trickle down to the neediest if they could only be patient, have left much of our state unprepared for the challenges of the new economy.

A new economy predicated on the modernization of our infrastructure, on caring for the neediest, on innovation and channeling the energy of our youth and the educational opportunities afforded to them.

Throughout this session I asked our caucus members to prepare for taking over the Senate in the next term. They have risen to this request.

If the business community is looking for friends in the legislature, look no further than those standing behind me.

If the agriculture community is looking for allies, look behind me.

If our education community from Pre-K, through Community College and the Universities are looking for genuine supporters, look behind me.

If our social welfare and healthcare programs and services are seeking partners in your causes and concerns, we are here working to get you the resources you need to lift up all Arizonans.

If you are looking for those who will protect and defend the health and safety of Arizona's children, you need only look behind me.

If our cities and counties are looking for support of your missions and not control of your operations. Your friends are behind me.

If our labor brothers and sisters want to know who is with them in good and bad times, be assured those who stand behind me are with you.

If our Republican colleagues want to work together to finalize a budget this week we are at the door, you need only open it.

We have developed and proposed a balanced, progressive and responsible budget that we are proud to present to you today.

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