Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Legislators Take 2nd Trip to DC for Special Interest Group!!! Still no budget!

Mary Jo Pitzl, lead legislative reporter for The Arizona Republic, reports on another trip that 14 legislators are embarking on this week instead of calling a special session to address our state's $3B deficit.  This is the second trip lawmakers attended this year for the ALEC conference.  The last one was in Atlanta.

AZ lawmakers off to D.C.

by Mary Jo Pitzl: December 3, 2009

Fourteen Arizona lawmakers are in Washington D.C. this week for the winter meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

They're hearing presentations on such topics as "Ensuring Success Outside the Ivory Tower," the upcoming redistricting process after the 2010 census, and a special presentation on "Obamacare." They're also hearing address from Rep. John Boehner, the House Minority Leader and Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia.

ALEC attracts mainly Republican lawmakers and serves as a laboratory for legislation that participants often take back to their home states.

Following is a list of the Arizona lawmakers, all Republicans, who are attending. They're not traveling on the taxpayer dime; their fees and fares are being paid for by scholarships sponsored by various industry contributors. That's the same method that will be used by a mixed bag of Democrats and Republicans who are lining up for the next legislative confab, the National Conference of State Legislatures, which is convening in San Diego. Stay tuned for that list.

No wonder there's no talk of another legislative special session until mid-December.
ALEC attendees this week:

Senate President Bob Burns-Peoria

Sen. Sylvia Allen-Snowflake
Sen. Pamela Gorman-Anthem
Sen. Russell Pearce-Mesa
Sen. Thayer Verschoor-Gilbert
Rep. Sam Crump-Anthem
Rep. Adam Driggs-Phoenix
Rep Doris Goodale-Kingman
Rep. Laurin Hendrix-Gilbert
Rep. Debbie Lesko-Glendale
House Majority Leader John McComish-Phoenix
Rep. Nancy McLain-Bullhead City
Rep. Jerry Weiers-Glendale
Rep. David Gowan -Tucson

We encourage ALL voters to contact the above legislators and ask them to focus on our state's budget woes.  For contact information, visit AEN's "Legislature & Governor" tab by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Legislative Update: Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket? 12/1/09

This update covers a quick overview of Arizona’s financial situation, the recently enacted budget cuts and a glimpse of what is lurking in the legislature..


State Financial Update – Where we Stand Today

From the latest Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) reports:
  • Projected Arizona state budget deficit for FY2010 = $2 Billion* +
  • Projected deficit for 2011 = $3.3 Billion
  • Arizona’s Operating Fund (the fund from which we pay our state bills) is negative for the first time since the 1930’s.
  • Arizona borrowed $700 million from Bank of America in November.  This loan was necessary to cover the Dec 1st funding for K-12 schools and to maintain cash reserves for ongoing expenses.  Treasurer Dean Martin estimates that interest payments for this loan will equal about $3.1 million.
  • The JLBC and three other economic forecasting groups hope for 6-7% growth in 2011, but even with this projected growth our state sales tax and individual income tax collections would not reach FY06 levels until at least FY2013. Corporate tax collections in FY13 are still projected to be lower than FY05 numbers.
*This estimate was released prior to the latest $400 million in additional budget cuts this month.  We expect the projected deficit number to be lowered somewhat in next week’s JLBC report, though probably not in a dollar-for-dollar due to increased interest payments, further declines in revenue, etc.
The Budget Cuts Last Week - $144 Million from K-12 Education
The legislature held a special session last week to enact a series of cuts that closely resemble the reductions that Governor Brewer vetoed earlier this year.  Brewer acknowledged that the cuts to education were pretty much equivalent to the cuts that she called “unacceptable” a few months ago, but now says that “We have no other alternative other than to go in and make some adjustments, some cuts, and to continue working forward in an effort to see how we are going to solve a possibly $4 billion deficit.”
The latest “adjustment” to K-12 education translated into a $144 million dollar cut to this current fiscal year’s soft capital funds (books, classroom materials, buses, other student supplies, etc.)  The legislation exempted school districts with fewer than 600 students, so charter schools were not impacted by the recent reductions.
I thought that the legislature was originally trying to cut $175 million in soft capital?  Why did they choose to cut $144 million instead?
Ah –ha!  Great question!
In order to receive federal stimulus money, all US states had to agree not to cut education spending below their 2006 state expenditure of education, otherwise known as the Maintenance-of-Effort (MOE) requirement.  This latest cut of $144 million sets us back to the 2006 number for this fiscal year.
If our legislature decides to cut anything else from the overall education budget this year, Arizona would be in danger of losing the $1 billion + in State Fiscal Stabilization Fund money that we are scheduled to receive between 2009-2011.
Governor Brewer is reportedly going to ask for an exemption to the federal guidelines so our legislature can continue to cut below 2006 funding levels.  More on that in the ‘What’s Next’ section below.
Was there any attempt at all to address our declining state revenue, tax loopholes or any other fiscal measures?
No.  Despite some speculation that Governor Brewer’s proposed 1-cent sales tax increase might gain some airtime in the legislature, there has been little public discussion of the measure and no serious move within the legislature to review any revenue measure, including any of the alternative plans already put forward by the minority party and outside groups.

How will this impact our schools? While the $144 million reduction represents yet another financial blow directly to the classrooms, school districts had been told right from the beginning of the year that this cut was highly probable.  All of the school officials we have spoken to had made ‘worst case scenario’ contingency plans for soft capital cuts this year and had not allocated all of the initial budget funds they had been assigned at the beginning of the year.
That said, this additional round of reduced payments will certainly impact our classrooms.   As more dollars are allocated to the most basic mandated services, many schools are already reporting that they expect to run out of their already-rationed classroom material (paper, etc.) before the end of the year.
What’s Next?

Legislators are already discussing a second special session for December, and we anticipate that leadership will meet again before the holidays.
Now that the education budget is cut down to the 2006 Maintenance of Effort threshold and state agencies are shutting down offices and facilities, do you think that revenue discussions might be on the table?  It’s doubtful.
Senator John Nelson recently remarked pointedly that too many of his fellow legislators are still devotedly beholden to Washington DC Lobbyist Grover Norquist and the anti-tax pledge they signed earlier in the year.  When asked by the Capitol Times if there was any hope for a serious examination of our revenue situation, Sen. Nelson, who did not sign the pledge himself, told the Az Capitol Times that “Grover (Norquist,) is not going to allow that to happen.  Everyone who signed that no-tax pledge is going to be told (to vote) no.”
So…while you reflect on the fact that a special interest lobbyist and non-Arizona resident is instructing our elected officials how to vote, here’s the skinny on the latest legislative leadership proposals for bridging our budget deficit:
Plan One:  Let the Lottery Ticket Buyers of 2020 Bail Us Out.
The latest scheme would involve borrowing…though we can’t call it that, because the Arizona Constitution strictly prohibits long-term borrowing.  To get around these silly semantic details, the latest buzzword de jour is  “securitization”.
Though the plan is somewhat convoluted, legislators think that they can skirt the Constitution by pledging future funds off a single source--in this case it would be the Arizona Lottery--and therefore ‘secure’ the future funds for this year’s budget rather than ‘borrow’ them.
State lottery director Jeff Hatch-Miller reports that the lottery contributed $43.2 million to the state treasury last year.  Legislators are looking to borrow against (er,  “secure”) anywhere from 20-30 years worth of future lottery revenue….though this plan is further hampered by the fact that Arizona voters only authorized the state lottery through 2012.  It’s quite a feat to dodge both the Constitution and to borrow now from a program that still doesn’t legally exist 3 years from now, but that’s the proposed plan.
Plan Two:  State Fundraiser!
Legislator Judy Burges has gathered 33 majority party legislators to sponsor a voluntary donation option on the upcoming Arizona State Tax return forms.  The hope is that each Arizona household would forgo some of their tax return money to help bridge the state budget deficit.
Is this a viable idea?  Capitol News Service reports that Arizonans donated $7.6 million to various causes (Clean Elections, veteran’s health, etc.) via their tax returns this last fiscal year.  That said, even if the legislature collects a similar sum under this scheme, it would only amount to roughly .25% of our $3 billion dollar projected deficit.  In other words…it’s a bit like running a lemonade stand this weekend in the hopes of covering your yearly mortgage.

Plan Three:  Cuts, Cuts, Cuts!

Prime target this time?  You guessed it – Education!
House Majority Whip Andy Tobin and Senator Russell Pearce, head of the Appropriations Committee, have already stated that the federal stimulus education maintenance-of-effort (MOE) waiver should itself be waived.  Senator Pearce has stated that he “wants all those political handcuffs removed” so that the Senate can extend further cuts to education.  Rep. John Kavanagh, the Appropriations Chair in the House, also agrees with this assessment:  “These cuts we’re making today barely make a dent in the problem…this is cosmetic.”
If those words aren’t enough to give us all pause, Senator Pearce has gone further to suggest that the legislature should perhaps cut deeper into education in spite of the potential loss of federal stimulus dollars.  When asked what the legislature should do if the federal Department of Education refuses to waive the MOE requirement, Pearce opined:  “Let’s cross that bridge when we get there. It’s worth asking, and it’s worth maybe ignoring.”

What to do?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we encourage you to continue contacting your legislators to insist that they seek a balanced, measured plan.  Right now we aren’t finding evidence of a plan at all…just random cuts without much foresight into the future of our state.
We also encourage you to write to local papers and TV stations.  Whether you chose to write an editorial or just a simple email to a reporter, it is important to let them know that we want relevant and factual information about our state budget and that we hold education in the highest priority.

Find Out More:
Bill:  Won’t you donate to ailing state? Arizona Daily Star, November 30, 2009
Governor, lawmakers slash $300 million from budget,, November 24, 2009
Borrowing plan using lottery weighed, Arizona Daily Star, November 23, 2009
State lawmakers to hold another special session, Yuma Sun, November 20, 2009
Lawmakers consider seeking exemption from stimulus requirements, Arizona Capitol Times, November 20, 2009
Trimming Around the Edges / Lawmakers attempt to cut state spending – but Arizona remains on the edge of a financial disaster, Jim Nintzel, Tucson Weekly, November 19, 2009
Budget agreement fails; Senate will try again Monday, Arizona Republic, November 20, 2009
GOP deal to OK $450M in budget cuts falls apart, AZ Daily Star, November 20, 2009
State borrows $700M; first external loan since Great Depression, AZ Capitol Times, November 19, 2009
Loan to Pay Arizona’s Bills (Video) State Treasurer Dean Martin discusses the $700 million load the State of Arizona is seeking to meet its financial obligations, November 19, 2009
Voters still locked out of budget process, Douglas Dispatch, November 11, 2009
Billion-dollar deficits to plague Arizona through 2013, Arizona Capitol Times, September 8, 2009
Beyond California:  States to Watch, (Arizona Report), Pew Center on the States, October 2009
Finance Advisory Committee, Revenue & Budget Update, Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC), October 22, 2009
JLBC – Monthly Fiscal Highlights, October 2009

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

These are challenging times for our state. And when we're careless with our perspective, our everyday lives are affected, and our ability to find joy in the simple things is compromised. But as we all take a few steps back to gather with loved ones this holiday season, it is important to bank away a reserve; a bit of thanksgiving to carry with us throughout the year for those things big and small.

Schools are still open. Minds are still encouraged to learn. Each day promises of yet another child learning to read. And classrooms are full of students dreaming of ways they'll change the world. Another generation awakens a dream of being a teacher some day. Books enlighten curious minds to lands just beyond our grasp. Imaginations climb. Computers connect to Internet portals, uniting our front doors; bring cultures together, promising peace. The world is a classroom with limitless capacity. And we are all welcome to dwell within it. Young and old.

These things hold true long after the Thanksgiving holiday has come to pass. And these are the tokens we must tuck away for those days where advocacy is met by prolonged droughts of inspiration and progress. Be thankful this holiday and every day forward. Because for as long as there is a mind eager to learn, there is still so much to be hopeful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

~Your AEN Team

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sharpton & Gingrich: Rising above differences, coming together on education

October 1, 2009, Rev. Al Sharpton and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich toured BASIS, a nationally recognized charter school in Tucson, Arizona. While a banner day for Tucson, it was just one of many stops this "political odd couple" would make as part of President Obama's "Race to the Top" challenge to our nation's schools, which "is an unprecedented federal investment in [educational] reform. [Secretary of Education, Arne] Duncan will reserve up to $350 million to help states create assessments aligned to common sets of standards. The remaining $4 billion will be awarded in a national competition."

The second half of this past Sunday's "Meet the Press" featured both Rev. Al Sharpton, Newt Gingrich as well as Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Together, the trio discussed their perception of the state of education in our nation, as well as what is working, what isn't working, and where improvements can be made. While disagreements on how we go about arriving at success remain, a succesful outcome is a shared objective; one in which all three agree partisanship has no place.

"If we could come together on education, I think it's an example to the kids that some things should be above our differences." ~ Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network

"[I]f politics are the art of the possible, our children deserve a chance to see us come together, to put their future above partisanship and to find a way to take on the, the establishment in both parties and try to get this [crisis in education] solved." ~ Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich
"Those old, tired fights of the past just don't get us where we need to go. Everybody's moving, everybody's willing to move. At the end of the day, we want dramatically different outcomes for students. That's the only reason we all work every single day." ~ Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan

How refreshing.

It seems to me there is a great deal our legislature could learn from these "political polar opposites". While the challenge reaches into every state across the nation and threatens political capital, this interview was a clear example of how civility can be the first step towards success. Decorum never took a back seat to ideology. Respect never took a backseat to partisanship. At the end of the day, this for me, a parent of school-aged children, is a clear example of how it IS possible for legislators on both sides of the aisle to rise above the partisan rancor and take the politics OUT of educational issues facing our state's future leaders.

If every invested organization, legislator, superintendent, voter can remove the politics from the debate over best practices, we may be able to put down the swords long enough to spare the educational future of our state's children. Because at the end of the day, it's their future we're all betting on. And the stakes have never been higher.

J. Davidson
Parent & Public Education Supporter

Learn more about possible solutions by clicking here.

"School tour has Sharpton, Gingrich promoting classroom innovation" ~Washington Post November 14, 2009

Sharpton, Gingrich Visiting BASIS ~ Arizona Republic, September 17, 2009

BASIS school lures Gingrich, Sharptom ~ Arizona Daily Star, September 15, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Welcome to the Arizona Education Network blog!

Your AEN Blog Team is hard at work plugging in all of the informative links and resources on the sidebar, as well as getting our premier post published.

In the meantime, please visit us at our website

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Be sure to check back soon!

The AEN Blog Team