The Farley Report: 5-14-13

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Time once again for The Farley Report from Senator Steve Farley (D-LD 9):

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.

Steve Farley

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