The Farley Report: March 30, 2010

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Time once again for the Farley Report from Rep. Steve Farley (D-LD28):

Oops, she did it again.

Yes, Governor Jan Brewer has chosen to call her Eighth Special Session.

Perhaps you may be thinking — wow — she finally decided to do the right thing and is going to reinstate KidsCare so that we are qualified once again for the $7 billion in federal money each year that her recent budget tossed away.

If that was your thought, you are sadly wrong.

Instead, Brewer and the Republican legislature have decided to hold this unprecedented eighth special session in order to engage in a politically motivated stunt to engage the Federal Government in a frivolous lawsuit against the entire healthcare reform package.

There's a whole lot of reasons why this is a terrible idea. Number one, she is saying she would rather ship out scarce taxpayer money to high-priced Republican attorneys than take care of sick kids.

The suit they want to pay to join is already underway and is already seeking to overturn the healthcare reforms on behalf of all states whether we pay or not. And most legal observers on the right and left agree that the suit is sure to fail, based on clear, recent precedent from the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court that allows the Federal Government to mandate healthcare, just like it did in creating Medicare.

It makes even less sense to be suing now that we know we will be receiving another $400 million in stimulus money that we can use to pay for the continuation of KidsCare and the people below the poverty line who are currently on AHCCCS healthcare through June 30, 2011. No Arizona money will be required.

The more people hear about the new healthcare plan, the more people like it. We can keep our most vulnerable citizens and children covered, and we can get a much higher match from the Feds — $13 for every $1 we put in.

Thousands of new healthcare jobs will be created during this recession, discrimination based on pre-existing conditions is banned, the Medicare Part D "doughnut hole" is closed, lifetime limits on coverage are outlawed, preventive care is ramped up dramatically with no co-pays, and insurance companies can no longer kick people off their plan for getting sick. All of this actually reduces out national deficit by more than $1.3 trillion in the next twenty years.

One of my favorite parts of the new healthcare reform law is something I thought I had dreamed up about six months ago. It turns out that I wasn't the first to come up with the idea.

I have recently been developing a Senior Caucus in the legislature to hear from Arizona elders and their caregivers and come up with legislative solutions to their problems. I am like many people my age who are raising our kids at the same time as trying to provide the best care possible for our parents. We are discovering that decades of denial do not produce great policy.

Three years ago my family and I were thrust into the world of long-term care and end-of-life issues when my mother was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, a disease of the brain that will eventually kill her. As last year's infamous discussion of the fictitious "death panels" made clear, we are pretty good at pretending that we don't all get sick and die eventually.

That means that there are few places to turn for advice when the real world of eldercare crashes in on us. Thank goodness for the Pima Council on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association, who provide really crucial services even as their funds are being cut.

The biggest problem that I have experienced is long-term care. Figuring out which place was right for my mom was tough enough. Figuring out how to pay for it has been even more challenging.

Arizona has ALTCS, which provides funding for long-term care for those who are below certain income levels. Rich families have enough resources to afford the right care. But those of us in the shrinking middle class are stuck with a $3,000-$6,000 bill each month, and no way to pay for it.

That brings me back to my idea which turned out to be the late Ted Kennedy's idea and was enacted as part of the healthcare reform law. It's called the CLASS (Community Living Assistance Support Services) Act.

The basic idea is a voluntary, actuarially-sound Social-Security type program in which wage-earners contribute payroll deductions to a long-term care insurance trust which would pay out cash benefits to cover long-term care or disability care when they need it.

While it won't help me or my mom right now (you need to contribute for five years in order to vest), it will help fend off a long-term problem that currently costs our economy $107.6 billion each year, growing to $569.9 BILLION in today's dollars by 2045 as baby-boomers pour into the system.

And it is just one of the hundreds of really great features in the healthcare reform law that our Governor and Republican leaders are spending our money to overturn.

Speaking of Republicans spending our money…

You may not have heard about this, but House Speaker Kirk Adams (R-Mesa) introduced an amendment last Thursday to increase taxes on middle-class families and small businesses by $138 million, retroactive to January 2009. And every single Republican voted to go along with this tax hike.

My favorite part of it is the piece that raises $20 million in taxes on unemployed people. Retroactively.

How did this happen? The amendment was revealed an hour before the floor debate was to begin and I was the only member to object on the floor because it was cloaked as a technical amendment to a technical bill (HB2156).

Each year, the Legislature has to pass a bill to conform state tax law with federal tax law. This is called the IRS Conformity Bill. It should pass early, and be the first bill signed by the Governor, so that tax preparers and taxpayers can plan and pay their taxes accurately.

We usually accept full conformity without much argument, and this year tax preparers and taxpayers and tax software companies assumed full conformity because the bill was passed out of committee in early January with no changes and no indication that changes were coming.

Last Thursday, three weeks before the tax-filing deadline, Adams surprised everyone with an amendment to the conformity bill that threw us out of conformity with the federal code. Considering that up to 70% of Arizona taxpayers have already filed by some counts, and most will have filed by the time this bill makes it to the Governor, all those taxpayers will have to file amended returns and pay more taxes.

Perhaps it would have been better to get rid of the exemption on four-inch pipes instead of taxing unemployed people?

I suppose that might have to wait until we elect a different Governor and a different legislative majority. This November.

Finally tonight, in a bit of breaking news, this legislature actually did something good today. The House just passed a bill of mine, HB2300, that restricts trucks to the two right lanes of a highway of three or more lanes. The third-read vote was a strongly bipartisan 51-6, and had the support of the Fraternal Order of Police.

This bill will save lives by cutting down on the number of terrible accidents on I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix and elsewhere. Similar legislation has reduced truck-involved accidents by 78% in South Carolina and 68% in Texas. HB2300 now travels to the Senate where the committee process starts over again.

Perhaps next session, we can all work together to reduce Legislature-involved fiscal accidents.

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