As we look towards the convening of the 2020 Legislative session and beyond, there are many issues that will be discussed and considered. We thought it would be helpful to give you a little run down from the HighGround perspective.
1. Education Funding
Our polling continues to show that education funding is the top issue with the electorate. As the 2020 election cycle dawns, Republicans hold a one seat advantage in the House of Representatives and a three seat margin in the State Senate. The session is likely to set the stage for who will control each body as the new decade begins.
The Governor and the Republican legislature have significantly increased K-12 general fund spending since our last election cycle in 2018. By 2021, with currently committed funding K-12 spending will have increased by over $1.2 billion. That includes last year’s $165 million to fully fund the teacher pay raises, $136 million for district and charter additional assistance, $88 million for school building renewal, $76 million for new school construction, $30 million in new funds for high performing schools with results based funding, $20 million to hire more school counselors and resource officer and $10 million for career and technical education.
Nevertheless, our data shows that nearly three-quarters of the electorate believe K-12 funding is “too low” and more than 80% of voters believe that teachers remain underpaid. Voters will most likely be looking at a ballot initiative on the 2020 ballot supported by the Arizona Education Association to raise an additional billion dollars for public education by increasing the income tax on the wealthiest Arizonans and increasing everyone’s sales tax by 4/10ths of a percent. So the question legislative leaders will be pondering is: “Have we done enough to say that the tax increase is a bad idea?”
This session will tell, but due to the nearly $1 billion surplus in state revenues they can choose to allocate additional resources in many different ways:
- Pay down existing debt and eliminate the budget roll-over gimmick to establish real current year funding;
- Increase funding for special needs student populations that have been chronically underserved;
- Spend additional funds on school safety programs in an attempt to ensure to stop school shootings; and
- Fund programs specifically designed to improve academic performance in our state’s poorest school districts in an attempt to establish a counter-narrative to a potential ballot measure.
On this last note, this program should receive quite a bit of attention because most survey data shows that the electorate is most concerned about chronically underperforming schools in our state’s poorest communities. A two year program that tracks funding and improvement would go a long way towards upending the union’s push to spread new tax dollars like peanut butter across the entire state
2. Transportation Funding
Transportation funding, particularly maintenance of our existing state highway system will be a very hot topic. Arizona’s current fuel tax of 18 cents per gallon has not been increased in 29 years! As a result, 43% of Arizona’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. Fatalities on Arizona’s rural roads is the 3rd highest in the nation and twice as high as compared to the rest of the state. Over the past 40 years, Maricopa County has built more new freeway miles than most, if not all, metro areas in the United States. With those roads, maintenance costs are expected to triple over the next 30 years according to ADOT. Oh, and then these two startling facts jump out at you:
- Because maintenance revenue is tied to gasoline cars only, electric, hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles are getting mostly a free ride.
- Since 2001, the fund used to maintain roads (Highway User Revenue Fund) HURF, has been raided by the legislature to the tune of $2 billion plus to pay for other things! Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul.
3. Water Negotiations
Last session the Legislature made historic strides by adopting the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan – a truly landmark accomplishment which sets the stage for the next round of negotiations on Arizona’s use of Colorado River water. Colorado River issues that will continue to be on the front burner are:
- Transfers of Colorado River from the River Communities to Central Arizona, including the proposed Greenstone to Queen Creek Transfer that is pending comment at DWR now;
- Creating a process by which Arizona participates in the 2026 Guidelines re-negotiation process that begins with a review of the 2007 Guidelines in 2020 by the Bureau of Reclamation; and
- Continued scrutiny of the creation of Intentionally Created Surplus water in Lake Mead under the DCP agreement.
Groundwater issues on the front burner are:
- Study Committee meetings for the basins at Risk in Mohave County and La Paz County being conducted under HB 2467 passed in 2019, and by the Non-AMA Groundwater Study Committee of the Governor’s Water Council;
- The Pinal Stakeholder process to address groundwater in the Pinal AMA;
- Providing new funding for the Department of Water Resources to return them to their funding levels from 2007.
4. Prison Funding
Prison funding will also be a hotly debated topic. The current situation at the Arizona Department of Corrections (as has been reported) is not safe for either inmates or corrections officers. Securing the current inmate population in a safe and healthy environment will not come cheap, too many corners have been cut in the past and those issues have come home to roost. The new leadership at ADOC has their hands full.
While we are discussing the current funding bill, there will be efforts to reform sentencing as well with particular emphasis on non-violent drug offenders and pre-trial diversion programs which have demonstrated abilities to keep people out of prison. But, you have to make sure you get the right people – very tough calls.
5. Power Deregulation (i.e. Destabilization)
The Corporation Commission is scheduled to vote on a Deregulation proposal which would take the state down the dangerous path of “retail competition,” for a critical resource that everyone needs. When they tried deregulation in California it was a complete economic disaster, leading to power shortages, blackouts and out of control pricing. It was revealed that ENRON and other companies were manipulating the market to increase costs for power so they could make more money.
Earlier this year, prices in Texas surged 24,000% on a single day because of a costly mistake by a marketer. To make matters worse, energy suppliers in deregulated states have been investigated and fined for harming customers, particularly seniors and those with limited incomes, by using predatory marketing practices.
We can’t afford unreliable power companies and out of control price spikes – particularly in the summer months. Hopefully, that proposal will fail to get the three votes necessary to move forward towards badly destabilizing Arizona’s robust economy.
6. Public Pension Systems
It wouldn’t be a modern-day session without continuing to address our public safety personnel pension systems’ unfunded liabilities. The PSPRS board of trustees, working with their member political subdivisions, will be promoting voluntary pension stabilization trusts as another tool in the pension funding toolbox. These irrevocable trusts will allow political subdivisions to set aside funds designated solely to pay down unfunded liabilities in a ‘lock box’ trust that will earn higher returns, maintain local control, allow for budget stability and strengthen credit ratings.
7. New Voting Machines
Also watch at the beginning of session for legislation that will allow Maricopa County to fully utilize the new capabilities of the $6 million in new, state of the art, voting machines that our largest county has procured. The old machines had been in service since 1996! Starting with the Presidential Preference Election in March, no more connecting arrows to vote; say hello to voter-friendly ovals to fill in. This new technology will allow for more accurate and faster tabulation with far more safeguards to enhance voting security and ballot integrity.
8. Record-High Voter Turnout
All this discussion should culminate sometime in late April or early May and then we will move into what is widely believed to be a historic election cycle. Combined with the “blue wave” enthusiasm that we just experienced in 2018, it is likely that 2020 will be one of Arizona’s largest turnouts in modern history. The high-water mark of turnout was 80.1% sent in 1980. Ballot issues such as the aforementioned education funding, the potential legalization of marijuana, Outlaw Dirty Money, and others would also likely contribute to higher turnout which could help set the record and motivate more unaffiliated and disaffected voters to participate.
Based on the increase in enthusiasm and anticipated blue wave, turnout is likely to exceed the 77.7% set in 2008 in Obama’s first election. An estimated turnout of 78% would be approximately 2,900,000 voters – an increase of nearly 500,000 compared to 2018 and nearly 240,000 more than four years ago. Achieving more than 3 million Arizonans turning out to vote is within reach in this upcoming election.
Last but certainly not least, the decadal exercise of redrawing our political boundaries commences this year. Twenty years ago, voters passed Proposition 106 which created the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). The IRC process was supposed to take politics out of the redistricting process.
However, the past two decades of the IRC experience has shown very differently. Most believe the GOP had the upper hand in the 2000 redistricting and that the Democrats clearly prevailed in the 2010 exercise. With the political makeup of the Appellate Court Commission which recommends the candidates for IRC appointment clearly leaning Republican now, the Democrats will likely find themselves on the defensive. Like the Republicans ten years ago, everyone should expect the Dems to lawyer up big time. Here’s guessing the newly expanded Arizona Supreme Court will end up with the final say on how our legislative and congressional districts will ultimately look.
So buckle up Arizona, get ready for a historic ride on the electoral roller coaster. As we say here at HighGround, “Stay on your yoga mat.”
Remember, we live in the greatest country on the planet and blessed to have the ability to participate in electoral democracy. Let’s do the best we can, people!