We wrapped up with some wins this session and we’ll come back to fight for more next year.
There was some shady business this legislative session. But the Democrats in the House and the Senate stood strong for our values, and our priorities and we made progress.
Democrats began the session with a plan to move Arizona forward, which focused on five key areas: public education, community support, public safety, economic development and responsible stewardship of our natural resources. By standing together, and holding the Republicans accountable, we gained something in most of these areas.
We advocated for the restoration of funding for career and technical education programs, called JTEDS, that keep students in school and provide skilled-job training. Republicans cut the funding for these programs last year, but with the help of outspoken supporters across the state, we were able to get the money for the programs back within a few weeks of the start of the session. The University of Arizona also received $8 million in the budget; that could be invested in the Large Animal Veterinary School.
We also championed economic development by calling for accelerated construction on Highway 189 for the Mariposa Port of Entry to support trade with Mexico. We supported job creation by protecting the Highway User Revenue Fund from budget sweeps, which is used to build and repair roads and bridges.
Water is a vital resource in Arizona. Ensuring its availability and quality is crucial to our economic future. Democrats worked to get money in the budget for the Department of Water Resources to re-hire staff and for the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund.
After a brutal political battle, we were able to restore funding for KidsCare, which will get health insurance for 30,000 low-income kids and put about $75 million into the state’s economy. We advocated for Arizona’s budget to include additional money for Department of Child Safety case managers, support services and preventative services, while requiring additional accountability measures. DCS remains in crisis, and ensuring the stability and effectiveness of this agency is a moral obligation.
Republican gamesmanship did prevent some good ideas from moving forward. Democrats found a way to restore the $116 million for classroom resources that Republicans cut last year, but the majority party ignored that plan. We think Arizona students should be in classrooms that prepare them for an increasingly global economy. Apparently, Republicans would rather keep per pupil funding at the bottom of the barrel and keep outdated textbooks and crowded classrooms. Instead, they spent $5 million on Koch brother propaganda centers, called “economic freedom schools.” This is distressing because the founding director of one of these centers stated he wants to “get rid of public schools.”
The governor and his Capitol cronies prioritized wealthy special interest tax breaks, private prisons and protecting dark money in elections above Arizona families and students. Democrats showed that, despite these challenges, we can be champions for education, job creation and our community and we will be ready to continue this work next legislative session.
Sen. Steve Farley of Tucson is Senate assistant minority leader and Rep. Rebecca Rios of Phoenix is House minority whip.