What a difference a Governor makes.

With Democrat Katie Hobbs sitting in the Governor’s seat, progressive-minded organizations like the Children’s Action Alliance (CAA) and its affiliate, the Arizona Center Economic Progress (ACEP) finally see opportunities to secure legislation that will move the state forward and lift the most vulnerable residents up.

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Among the possibilities for legislative passage from the priorities of the CAA and the ACEP are:

  • Lifting the Aggregate Expenditure Limit (AEL) so traditional public schools no longer have to fear being cut off from the monies promised to them.
  • Expanding health care access to KidsCare for an increased number of impoverished children.
  • Increasing funding to the Housing Trust Fund.
  • Providing more free and reduced meals for children.
  • Enacting a statewide paid family and medical leave program.
  • Bolstering access to childcare, mental/behavioral support agencies, and preschool programs like Head Start.
  • Including dental care for Medicaid recipients and allowing pregnant women and non-citizen children to enroll in AHCCCS.
  • Improving the Department of Child Safety and children’s welfare access.

Please click below to read the priority goals of the CAA and ACEP.

http://azchildren.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/CAA_2023-Legislative-Agenda_FINAL_1.5.23.pdf

https://azeconcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/AZC_2023-Legislative-Agenda-_FINAL_1.5.23.pdf

 

David Lujan, head of the Children’s Action Alliance.

CAA Chief Executive Officer and former director of the ACEP David Lujan, a former Democratic leader at the Arizona State Legislature, graciously took the time to discuss his hopes of how the governing visions and budget priorities of Governor Hobb’s could lead to the passage of legislation that will fulfill many of the long-standing goals of the two progressive organizations.

The questions and his responses are below.

  • Please list the Children’s Action Alliances’ three most important priorities for the 2023 legislative agenda.

“I’ll start with what I think is probably one of our most important priorities, both for the Children’s Action Alliance and for the Arizona Center for Economic Progress and that is lifting the school spending limit for this year. Otherwise, public schools are looking at close to $1.4 billion in cuts this March. But it’s not just lifting up for this year. I think an equally important priority is making sure that the legislature refers to a future ballot, a permanent fix to the school spending limit because otherwise we’re going to be having this issue every single year and we’ll never be able to get out of the basement nationally in terms of funding for public schools. So, the school spending limit is definitely at the top of our list in terms of priorities.”

“For the Children’s Action Alliance, I would say childcare. healthcare and the child welfare system are three areas that we’re really looking at.”

“For childcare, it’s becoming increasingly expensive and harder to find childcare for parents in Arizona. That is also an issue for our workforce. It’s hard for people to participate in our workforce if they can’t find access to affordable childcare. The state, during the great recession, really cut back on any sort of state funding for assistance to make childcare more affordable. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of federal dollars come into Arizona during the pandemic to pay for childcare, but those dollars are starting to go away. So, we really want to see the state step up like it should and help particularly low-income families pay for the cost of childcare. Increasing state resources for that would be an important priority.”

“When it comes to healthcare, Arizona has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country. KidsCare is our children’s healthcare program for low-income children. One of the things we’re excited to see in Governor Hobbs’s budget is something that is one of our priorities is to increase eligibility for KidsCare to 300% of the federal poverty level up from what is now 200% of the federal poverty level. That would give many thousands more low-income children access to healthcare. It’s the right thing to do. We are way behind as a state in that area.”

“The final priority would be our child welfare system. We have a new director of DCS (Department of Child Safety) under Governor Hobbs and I think a new direction that is to create a child wellbeing system. What I mean by that is not only keeping children safe but also making sure that families have the resources so they don’t have to have DCS involvement in the first place. So many DCS cases often arise out of neglect, but often it’s not necessarily neglect, but it’s issues dealing with poverty like parents not having resources for proper housing or childcare as we talked about before. There are a lot of things we can do in terms of providing resources to low-income families, and it’s an investment that will pay off in the long term in terms of fewer children and families being involved in the child welfare system, less children and families being involved in the foster care system. And so really changing the focus of our child welfare system to a child wellbeing system is another priority of ours.”

  • The Arizona Center for Economic Progress has slightly different priorities compared to the CAA. Would you care to elaborate?

“I’ll just say the School Spending Limit one is at the top up there.”

“The Arizona Center, given the nature of the legislature, is also sort of defensive in our priorities, and that is we want to prevent any more tax cuts. We have seen more than two billion dollars in tax cuts in just the last two years, tax cuts that are overwhelmingly benefiting the rich and corporations and it’s draining our state general fund revenue. Putting an end to three decades worth of tax cuts is one of our top priorities.”

“Affordable housing is going to be a big issue. There’s a lot of different approaches, but really one of our biggest is just seeing more funding for the Housing Trust Fund, which goes to help people who are facing eviction and people who are homeless.”

“Finally, we actually have a priority related to taxation and it relates to corporate income taxes. Corporations are not paying their fair share in Arizona, 71% of corporations are paying less than $50 a year in taxes. There is a law on the books that actually allows multi-state corporations to choose which method their income taxes are calculated in. We don’t let anybody else choose, and they get to pick whichever method results in the lowest amount of taxes. We want to repeal that current method.”

  • To what extent does Governor Hobbs’s fiscal year 24 budget reflect the priorities of CAA and the Arizona Center for Economic Progress? Please explain.

“Overall, I thought it was a really good and exciting budget for some of the investments that she has in there. We agree with the repeal of the ESAs. We agree with eliminating results-based funding, which has been skewed towards, charter schools and wealthier school districts. We very much agree with the 150 million into the housing trust fund, which we think is good. We agree with the additional investments for KidsCare to expand eligibility for children’s healthcare. We like that there are a lot more resources for DCS and also at the Attorney General’s office to help in the DCS cases. So, there’s a lot to like in Governor Hobbs’s budget that we support.”

“Two things I have to point out that we are opposed to in the Governor Hobbs budget despite the good intentions.”

“We don’t think providing a sales tax exemption for diapers is the best way to go to provide low-income families with relief. That will reduce state revenues by about $16 million and it would save families about seven dollars a month in the cost of diapers, which is okay, but we think a better way to go is to take that $16 million and invest it in a grant program so that low-income families could get, for example, free diapers for a year, which would save them close to $80 a month compared to the seven dollars for the sales tax. The reason for that is if you do a sales tax exemption, you’re giving it to everybody, even those, households that are making half a million dollars a year, who can afford to pay the sales tax? We don’t necessarily think that’s a great idea.”

“The other budget item we are against is another tax cut. Governor Hobbs wants to do a sales tax exemption on feminine hygiene products which will reduce state revenues by $24 million a year. Our hope is that if they’re going to pursue that, let’s find one of those corporate tax loopholes that we’ve given for so many years to make it a revenue-neutral proposal because if you’re giving a sales tax exemption on feminine hygiene products, you’re also hurting Arizonans because you’re going to have less money for public education, healthcare, and childcare. So, let’s eliminate the sales tax exemption for private jets, for example, or the sales tax exemption for fine art. There are a lot of those loopholes that we’ve given and let’s make it so it’s not going to reduce state revenues. That would be our, our hope.”

Do you support the Governor’s Child Tax Credit proposal?

“Yeah, I think we will. We haven’t taken a formal position, but I think we will probably support that. I think that it goes to all families and sometimes we have concerns that these tax credits are not refundable or don’t go to people who are, don’t have enough tax liability to take advantage of it. But I think the way that she’s proposing is, I think it’s a good idea.”

The Governor’s budget does not provide for Universal Pre-K. What are your thoughts on that?

 “We would love to see it. I think this gets to all those tax cuts we’ve had the last few years. We had a two billion dollar revenue surplus last year. There’s a report that came out by JLBC last week that shows that it’s pretty much disappeared because the economy is starting to slow down. Pre-K would be a great investment that we could have done last year but they gave so much of that revenue away in the form of tax cuts that you only have so many dollars at this point, to do.

I did not see Full Day Kindergarten in the budget either.

“I haven’t seen that either. We would very much support that. These are things to work on in future years.”

  • With Republicans still retaining a small majority in the Arizona State Legislature, what priorities do you feel will make it to the Governor’s desk? Please explain.

“I think things like housing get a lot of bipartisan support. I think there will be bipartisan support for increasing the Housing Trust Fund. It may not be at the level Governor Hobbs is proposing in her budget, but hopefully at some level and I think other policy ideas around making housing more affordable will get to her desk and have bipartisan support.”

“I would hope a lot of the issues that, that we prioritize around children’s healthcare, children’s welfare, the foster care system. have not usually been partisan issues. There have been at least some legislators in the past that have expressed an interest on the Republican side of expanding KidsCare. I think that might be an area that could potentially get support, and then the child welfare system where that’s all about keeping families together and not breaking them up. I think that’s something there’s bipartisan support around.”

Do you also foresee an increase in education funding?

“We need to have bipartisan support for the school’s spending limit because we won’t get increases unless we have. There is significant bipartisan support there. I saw the appropriations meeting this morning and the Governor’s Budget Director got grilled over the ESA repeal and a lot of other things. So, it’s not starting off well in that regard but I, I would I think for example the funding around building renewal for school facilities too, and they want to postpone the lawsuit. I would hope there would be bipartisan support there. It’s about getting money for schools rather than paying lawyers. It makes sense and that’s actually good for the economy too. I’ve always said I don’t understand why there’s been the reluctance to put money into school facilities because that creates jobs as well in our community. So, so hopefully there’ll be some things there that’ll pass.”

  • Is your organization considering, and you already said this on the AEL, petition drives for the AEL and a new Invest in Ed?

“Not at the moment. Our priority would be first to get the legislature to refer something to the ballot on AEL. I think there’s a possibility they could even do some sort of like a special election or something around that. It’s much easier as we have found out that the legislature refers things to the ballot and I would want to refer something that has bipartisan support, which we would need to have. We certainly are prepared to go the ballot route to collect signatures if that’s needed. However, our first priority is to try and get the legislature to do it.  Somebody has to do it because if we don’t do a permanent fix, we will never get out of the basement in terms of school funding. This gets to the other part of your question on Invest in Ed. We can’t have an Invest in Ed or anything else that provides substantially more dollars to our public education system without first addressing the school spending limit so we have to get that fixed.

  • Is there anything not covered in the first six questions that you would like the readers to know about the priorities of the Children’s Action Alliance and the Arizona Center for Economic Progress? Please explain.

“It’s going to be an interesting session. You’ve got a one-person Republican majority in both house chambers and a Democratic Governor. It’s going to be divided government for the first time in a long time, and I think it’s just going to take them a while to figure out how to work together.”

“There’s going to be a lot of vetoes. I think we could be here a long time before we get a budget this year. I hope Governor Hobbs stays strong about what she believes in and understands that you know, she was elected by the people of Arizona just as much as the legislature was. I think an opportunity to really have a bipartisan budget, which would be good for the state if they could do that.”

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