Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another bathroom analogy...

So, at the Arizona Legislature, it looks like somebody told leaders in both chambers that it was time to s*it or get off the pot. After enduring a snail's pace for more than a month, both chambers are now scrambling to accomplish the main task they face every year -- passing the budget which authorizes operation of state government agencies as it establishes policy priorities.

As noted earlier (Tuesday late afternoon), ten budget bills and an ominous (omnibus) elections related bill were introduced in the state Senate. I learned later that discussions were also taking place in the House but no bills have been posted to the legislature's website from that chamber yet.

Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson) sent out one of his weekly "Friends O'Farley" email reports that provides a good summation of the situation. He was kind enough to allow me to share his report with you. Normally, I would only cite excerpts, but his analogy is both apt and entertaining, so here is the whole report:
I believe I previously shared with you my analogy of the legislature as a middle school. That analogy is particularly apt as we approach approving a budget, as we began to do this morning.

Just like 7th and 8th grades, for the last few days rumors of all kinds have run rampant, cliques have formed and broken, fights have broken out then healed almost as quickly, and adrenaline is reaching a peak. Huge lines in the sand are easily crossed and then forgotten, reputations are made and then broken, and hope and fear fight over the same space in our consciousness.

The Medicaid restoration has heightened the stakes dramatically this year, so this next couple of weeks is really gonna be something to witness.

Yes, the logjam of the past couple of months is finally broken, and the end is in sight. This may be due to the Governor's threat to veto all bills until progress is made, or perhaps due to today being the day legislators' per diem reimbursement is slashed, but either way the result is welcome after weeks of stagnation.

Here's how it is going down so far, subject to change at any moment:

Ten separate budget bills--covering different aspects of the budget--were introduced by special dispensation of the Senate Rules Committee today. This is a surprise in and of itself, since the previous assumption was that budget would start in the House, given President Biggs's declaration weeks ago that he would not let Medicaid get a vote on the Senate floor.

None of these bills (SB1483-1492) include the Medicaid restoration. However, the general understanding is that one of them will be amended (by a Republican) during Committee of the Whole on Thursday to include the Governor's restoration plan (with no language against Planned Parenthood), and there are more than enough bipartisan votes to pass it.

Thus amended (and with other amendments to improve the current language of other bills), the package will be third read and sent out of the Senate late Thursday/early Friday and sent to the House, where--barring unforeseen glitches--it will likely be further amended and returned to the Senate for final approval, then passed to the Governor for signature.

The House seems to have enough votes to pass Medicaid as well, but Speaker Tobin is still trying to push an alternative of sending it to the voters (costing another $8 million in taxpayer money to do so). There does not appear to be support for that alternative. The Governor's plan has a strong chance of making it through, particularly given the momentum that would come from the package passing through the Senate with more bipartisan votes than necessary.

That's the plan on Medicaid. The rest of the budget is a bit more checkered. While most of us assumed that any budget coming out of the Senate would be way too conservative for Democrats to consider, the bills before us today, while they contain flaws, are in many ways surprisingly reasonable, and almost matches the Governor's budget proposal from earlier this year. Despite their problems, these bills don't emulate the slash-and-burn budgets of recent years.

They fund the inflation factor for K-12 education ($82 million this year) for the first time in years (admittedly after the legislature lost a court case to that effect) and there is funding for the UofA medical school and updating the ancient computers in the Department of Education. On the other side, Performance Funding remains. This has the possibility of rewarding rich schools while punishing poor ones, but it is pushed off into next year at which point the formula will be finalized and hopefully fixed, if that is possible. Also, the statutory formulas for classroom supplies and computers are eliminated, as is the School Facilities Board formulas. Adult Ed is not funded, either.

CPS funding is increased, but not to the extent needed. For instance, Emergency and Residential Placements for kids who need to be removed from dangerous homes is scored at less than half of what the Governor says we need, and this could set up more terrible situations wherein kids are housed in offices for days on end -- we have to protect those kids who count on us for their safety.

There will be amendments offered by both Republicans and Democrats to fix many of these shortcomings, but it remains to be seen how many will be adopted. It could well be that I and others will be voting in favor of the Medicaid bill, but against many of the other bills that do more harm than good.

Another little kicker today was the late reintroduction of a series of Senate elections bills that were held in the House. These bills would collectively have the effect of reducing participation in Arizona elections and should be resisted at all costs. Thankfully for democracy, I have reason to believe that this package will not make it to the Senate floor. I will, as always, watch carefully just in case I am surprised. This is, after all, the season of surprises in the Legislature.
I will send you a brief update late Thursday or early Friday to let you know how this all shakes out here at Washington Street Junior High.

Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Tuesday evening was also the monthly meeting of LD26 Democrats. Besides inspiring presentations by 2014 candidates Felecia Rotellini (Attorney General) and Nancy LaPlaca (Corporation Commission), two of the three LD26 legislators (Sen. Ed Ableser and Rep. Juan Mendez) provided updates.

Ableser's update was consistent with Farley's write up. Speaking later with the other LD26 lawmaker, Andrew Sherwood, I learned he was busily working on related meetings and discussions regarding the state budget.

The biggest takeaway I got from each of the updates was the importance of Democrats standing firm and together this week.

The scenario I described on Monday evening for the Senate is similar to how things could play out in the House. Depending, that is, on the degree to which Democrats stand together in that chamber.

Sherwood thinks the opportunity for Democratic lawmakers to be real players in this year's budget is unprecedented. That might be overstating the situation a bit, but they (Democrats in the current, 51rst Arizona Legislature) certainly have far more leverage than in the 50th.

Recall that in the 50th Legislature, the GOP enjoyed a supermajority. Said supermajority allowed them to cause quite a bit of havoc, not the least of which was the failed effort to decapitate the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Nevertheless, the long used strategy by GOP leaders to buy a few Democratic votes (examples described in Monday's post) will not work if the Dems in each chamber stay unified. Long-time readers may also recall now imprisoned former lawmaker Richard Miranda. I cited him as an example of questionable testimony before the AIRC, when he claimed that a 70 percent Hispanic voter majority was necessary for Voting Rights Act compliance.

A 70 percent majority would make a lawmaker like him virtually untouchable in either a primary or general election. And if there is so little chance for such a lawmaker to lose an election, there is practically no way for the Democratic caucus to pressure him into standing together.

And a caucus that doesn't stand together... well, as Ben Franklin famously said, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

The stakes in this particular political situation are not quite as stark. But make no mistake, if the Democrats fail to remain united, the consequences for the entire state will be more grim. Do Democrats representing districts with Minority voters in the majority want to enrich themselves or do they want to give the voters they represent the opportunity to have a voice in public policy decisions in our state?

Standing together, they (along with the more sane Republicans) can kill the Elections Ominous bill. Among the sinister provisions of that bill, Michele Reagan's bills to throw voters off of the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) and making it a felony for activists to collect and deliver signed and sealed (and therefore NOT tampered with) early ballots to polling places or county elections offices.

As I understand it, there is no uncertainty among policy analysts that the intent of such bills is to suppress minority voter rights. At minimum, such a bill would be subject to court challenge even if the US Supreme Court strikes down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (decision expected next month on that issue). Court challenges mean -- at minimum -- sinking large amounts of taxpayer funds into attorney fees.

Anyway, I digress.

Social media is a wonderful thing. Make no mistake, Arizona's Democratic members of the 51rst Legislature most certainly need to stand united. In doing so, we will see the first real benefit result from the work done by the AIRC in drawing the new legislative maps. It will most assuredly piss off David Cantelme and his band of misfits (Wes Harris et. al. as the plaintiffs who challenged the legislative map in federal court). But I direct your attention to recall what they tell people who can't take a joke.

Politics is not for the faint of heart. We are NOT faint of heart.

So, for the moment, kudos to Steve Farley and Ed Ableser in the Senate, as well as their colleagues. And kudos to Juan Mendez, Andrew Sherwood, Chad Campbell (House Minority Leader) and the rest of the House Democratic Caucus.

Keep up the good work.

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By the way, apparently, on the Capitol lawn, Medicaid expansion supporters will rally this morning at 11 -- followed at noon by a rally, same location, by expansion foes.



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