Well, after over 100 days at the capitol, the budget might finally, potentially, suddenly be here this upcoming week. What should we expect from Governor Ducey and the majority?
Much of the focus this week will center on our K-12 schools, particularly raising salaries for our teachers. This is shaping up to be the most important policy discussion of the week – Governor Ducey’s original proposal called for a 0.4% increase for the upcoming year. Early reports indicate the majority is going to introduce a budget with a 1% increase this year, which isn’t enough, in my opinion.
My colleagues and I will be calling for a 4% increase this year, which we believe will help address the teacher retention crisis our state is facing. In all of my conversations with superintendents and visits to our local schools, this is the #1 problem I hear about. We are losing some of our best teachers we have because they simply can’t afford to keep teaching – many can make more money in different professions, and that’s a huge problem moving forward for our students AND for our state.
Expect a lengthy floor debate in both the House and the Senate around this topic, and expect plenty of parents and teachers to visit us at the capitol. I’m glad that this issue is getting more attention in the media and online – it’s a huge, huge problem that has been impacting our local public school districts for years.
Other than K-12, we’ll be keeping an eye on the governor’s university bonding proposal. This has been the major hang up of the session, with Republicans lukewarm about the idea of helping ASU, U of A, and NAU bond to raise funds for university infrastructure and research facilities. Democrats have offered to help Governor Ducey get this across the finish line, but thus far he has been unwilling to ask for our assistance. Our support will depend on the language of the bill, if it gets that far.
The extension of TANF benefits is extremely important to us as well. Arizona currently has the most restrictive TANF benefits of any state in the country, with a 12-month lifetime cap on benefits. The governor wants to extend this to 24 months, but an amendment added to the House version has troubled many health care advocates.
I am very uneasy about this bill as well, because I believe some of the restrictions put in place are too harsh. A clean extension of TANF, to 24 months lifetime eligibility, is required for ANY Democrat to support this extension. Expect me and many of my colleagues to speak strongly about this on the floor - we should not be making it harder for working mothers and working families to receive this critical lifeline of support. It goes against our values, and we'll be fighting for it this week.
I’m also hoping we can restore some of the funding cuts to our community colleges, particularly Mesa Community College. The state provides ZERO funding to community colleges in Pima or Maricopa counties – this is extremely short sighted as it relates to our state’s economic future.
The entire budget process takes about three days. Rumors indicate that Wednesday night/Thursday morning will be when all the votes happen, with an overnight session potentially in the cards. That could all potentially change though, so stay tuned.
You can always watch the proceedings live at azleg.gov, 24-7.
This will be my first budget, and I’m looking forward to what will certainly be a long, busy, and interesting week. I love being a part of the process, and working with others on the policy issues that impact our state.
It was a quiet week last week, comparatively speaking. I had the pleasure of attending the Kyrene School Board meeting on Tuesday, where I spent time with dozens of parents and educators who spoke passionately about the ESA bill that passed the legislature a couple of weeks ago. It was my fourth Kyrene board meeting since I was sworn in January, and I will continue to attend future board meetings throughout the year.
Friday was a fun day – I continued my tour of all of the K-12 schools in LD18 with tours of two outstanding A+ Kyrene schools, Akimel Middle School and Estrella Elementary School. Estrella was just named an A+ school early last week, so it was great to meet their principal and see all the great work they are doing. I was touched at the reception I received at both schools – Ahwatukee is well served by both of these outstanding public schools!
Friday night I attended a production of James and the Giant Peach at Aprende Middle School in Chandler. I was touched that the school invited me to attend, so of course I accepted! They even gave me a VIP seat at the front of the audience. And the play was pretty great, too! Congratulations to all the students and directors on an outstanding production.
Forgive the shortness of this update – I’ll be back again next week, hopefully with a play-by-play of what went down and what the budget means for our state. Stay tuned!
As always, you can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter for more up to the minute updates. I appreciate all of your help and support – if you can, please consider showing your support today so I can keep fighting for our values and priorities at the state capitol. It is an honor to represent you in the state senate!
Yours in the fight,