Yesterday we covered the new Speaker of he House in the Arizona legislature, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Gilbert. New House Speaker J.D. Mesnard strikes out on legislative priorities.
Today the AP interviews the new Senate President in the Arizona legislature, Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. Another batter strikes out looking at 3 pitches. New Arizona Senate president talks top issues, challenges:
Arizona’s new Senate President Steve Yarbrough sat down with The Associated Press to discuss his view of the job and the top legislative issues in the coming year. Answers have been edited for length.
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Question: So what are your [legislative] priorities?
Answer: I’m not sure we’re going to get these things necessarily fixed in the first year, but the public safety pension retirement system, that decision by a quasi-version of the state Supreme Court is really, really problematic. (A panel of judges, sitting as the state Supreme Court, ruled this year that the Legislature can’t boost employee pension contributions. See, Arizona pension ruling could mean $220 million in refunds to some workers). If we can’t adjust the contribution rate to prevent the plan from falling into insolvency, that is a big problem.
Sooo, once again our lawless Tea-Publican legislature did something in violation of the Arizona Constitution for which they will now have to pay restitution to the victims, and Sen. Yarbrough’s concern is how to get out of paying the restitution.
It is not the first time our lawless Tea-Publican legislature has done this. In 2012, our lawless Tea-Publican legislature was forced to repeal a pension reform law from ALEC and the Goldwater Institute heavily promoted by The Arizona Republic after the court struck it down as unconstitutional, then had to restore the previous funding system of a 50-50 split between the state and its workers. The Arizona Republic’s unconstitutional pension reforms finally repealed.
Two years ago the court struck down another provision of the same law referenced by Sen. Yarbrough that reduced the automatic cost-of-living increases for retired judges.
The Arizona Constitution protects public employee pensions from impairment of contracts, and violation of the fiduciary obligations of the pension fund manager (Arizona) to the fund beneficiaries. The only way to change the funding formula is through a constitutional amendment approved by the voters — something the voters have routinely rejected. Arizona has long underfunded its public employee pension system, just like everything else in this state.
So what about the top legislative priority of Arizonans, public education funding? Funny you should ask, because the AP did not.
Remember, this is Sen. Steve Yarbough, Arizona’s most corrupt state senator who uses his position to write charter school bills to steer state funding to his Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization in order to benefit himself financially. Outlook for the ‘next step’ in public education funding is not good.
So the AP naturally asked him this question:
Question: Major schools voucher expansions have failed in the past couple of years, and they failed because people in your own caucus believe public schools are underfunded. Is there’s something that can move there?
Answer: I don’t buy at all that you have to be one or the other in this whole process. I think you can be a strong advocate of school choice and simultaneously a strong advocate of funding for K-12 public schools, be it district schools or charter schools or online charter schools. So I think that you can do the best you can for funding our public schools while simultaneously moving the school choice needle further down the road. If we can’t do universal (vouchers) would I support another incremental step? I absolutely would.
Like I said yesterday, if there is any movement on school funding next year, it will likely be a legislative attempt to steer tax dollars to private and parochial schools, something the Arizona Constitution expressly prohibits. I can almost guarantee you that Cathi Herrod and the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) will be back with its demands for expanded (universal) school vouchers for all children, and it will get a hearing not only because Sen. Yarbrough wants it, he would personally benefit financially from it.
Whether universal school vouchers can pass or not remains to be seen. (There will be a constitutional legal challenge if enacted).
So what about Governor Ducey’s long overdue “next step” in additional public education funding? The AP sorta asked the question this way:
Question: You only have about $24 million in available new cash projected to be available in a $9.6 billion budget next year. That’s a drop in the bucket in a state with lots of unfunded needs.
Answer: $24 million is a lot for you and me but it’s not very much, its crumbs, in a state budget. It’s really problematic in my view. But understand there’s $315 million in new money that’s going to go to K-12 education by formula. So the $24 million that we might like to use for example to move forward on all-day kindergarten or spend more money at the department of child safety … if that’s the number … that we’re working from I hope we don’t spend too much time doing it. It’s like, take one, move on.
Like I said yesterday, the goal will be to pit interests groups against one another to fight over their slice of the budget pie, not to increase the size of the budget pie. Here, Yarbrough is pitting advocates of all-day kindergarten against the troubled department of child safety.
Governor Ducey’s State of The State Address in January is likely to simply propose moving pots of money around without increasing tax revenues to pay for increased public education funding. Yarbrough is suggesting the same thing — there is a limited pot of money.
There is little reason to believe that Rep. Heather Carter’s so-called “grand plan” to infuse major new dollars into K-12 education and the university and community college system has any realistic chance of passage or being signed by the governor. School reforms lack funding.
What a pair of winners we have in the GOP leadership.