ADOT fee double forecasted amount, angers lawmakers


That balanced budget that Gov. Doug Ducey said wouldn’t raise taxes is going to cost Arizona motorists an extra $32 a year for every car, truck and motorcycle they have.

And it’s more than 50 percent higher than Arizonans were told when the plan was first adopted earlier this year.

The fee is designed to have motorists pay directly for the costs of the Highway Patrol rather than having the agency funded out of gas tax and existing vehicle registration fees.

That is supposed to free up cash from the gas tax to instead be used for road construction and repair. And that, in turn, means that general tax collections which had been used for those purposes could instead fund other priorities of the governor and Legislature.

There’s a reason the fee, approved by lawmakers earlier this year, is a surprise. And it’s political.

The Arizona Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate for any new or increased tax or fee. And there were not the votes in either chamber to do that.

So lawmakers and the governor used a loophole of sorts: They directed John Halikowski, the head of the state Department of Transportation, to figure out how much the Highway Patrol division of the Department of Public Safety costs to operate. And then Halikowski was directed to impose a new fee to cover that cost.

In passing the buck, so to speak, by refusing to set the fee themselves, lawmakers then needed just a simple majority.

But the fee that was announced Thursday surprised Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who came up with the idea.

“That amount was not broached,” he told Capitol Media Services, saying “$17 or $18 was what the fee they told us we’d be dealing with.”

That’s also the number Campbell gave to colleagues when they approved the plan.

The Prescott lawmaker is not happy with Thursday’s announcement.

“We gave him the authority,” he said of Halikowski.

“We hope that he does the right thing,” Campbell continued. “I’m certainly going to talk to him about that and find out why.”

It’s not just Campbell that got a surprise when ADOT set the fee.

In preparing the plan earlier this year, legislative budget analysts figured that Highway Patrol would need about $135 million a year. Even with a 10 percent buffer, that would come to just $148 million.

And that, they figured, would cost vehicle owners just $18.06 a year.

So what changed?

ADOT spokesman Doug Nick said it turns out the Highway Patrol budget will be $168 million. Add 10 percent to that and the fee needs to raise to $185 million.

And there’s something else. Legislative budget staffers figured the cost would be divided up among 8.3 million registered vehicles.

But Nick said the owners of many of the vehicles on the road have prepaid their registrations for two or five years. So they can’t be taxed until they renew.

Add to that vehicles that are exempt from the levy, like government vehicles and those owned by nonprofit entities, and that $185 million has to be raised from the owners of just 5.8 million vehicles.

Do the math and you come up with $32.

The whole money-making maneuver – including the decision to leave the fee up to the ADOT director – is the culmination of a multi-year effort to find new dollars to help build new roads and repair existing ones.

That is supposed to be financed largely through a gasoline tax. But that 18-cent-a-gallon levy has not been raised since 1991 when gasoline was in the $1.20-a-gallon range.

And while there are more vehicles on the road, they also are more fuel efficient, with the number of road miles driven – and the wear and tear on the roads – increasing faster than new revenues.

What’s made matters worse is that the current and former governors and lawmakers, looking to balance the budget, have siphoned off some of those gas tax revenues to pay for the Highway Patrol. That left fewer dollars for both urban and rural transportation needs.

There were several lawmakers who were less than pleased with how the fee increase was crafted.

“Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, called it “the worst kind of tax increase” because it was being done without any idea of what it would cost motorists.

“We’re going to tell an unelected bureaucrat to go ahead and raise these fees to whatever he wants to,” he said.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, also balked at approving a yet-to-be-determined fee.

“I just can’t in good conscience pass something I don’t know what it is exactly,” she said.

ADOT use of facial recognition strictly limited, official says

Detectives in the Arizona Department of Transportation review driver's license photos using facial recognition software to help catch fraud. (Photo by ADOT)
Detectives in the Arizona Department of Transportation review driver’s license photos using facial recognition software to help catch fraud. (Photo by ADOT)

Arizona transportation officials say they’re not sharing your driver’s license photo with federal agencies, a practice that apparently is occurring in other states.

Tim Tait, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation, acknowledged Monday that his agency does use “facial recognition software.” This essentially digitizes a photo into data to allow it to be compared with other pictures.

But Tait said this is strictly for internal use, designed to ensure that people who already have a license in Arizona do not try to get another one.

Tait did say that ADOT will respond to requests for information − and facial recognition data − from federal and state law enforcement agencies. But there are restrictions, like it has to come from an agency that has “a specific law-enforcement request.”

“So they have to tell us why they’re interested in it,” Tait said. “It can’t just be a willy-nilly request.”

He said, though, if an agency shows up with a court order, that trumps everything and ADOT will provide the information without further questioning.

The issue arises following published reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are “mining” millions of driver’s license photos from three states for possible facial recognition matches.

The New York Times said this appears to be aimed mostly at states that offer driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. The paper said that documents obtained by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology found that ICE used facial recognition technology to scan the databases which also include photos of citizens and legal residents.

ICE spokesman Matt Bourke told National Public Radio it “will not comment on investigative techniques, tactics or tools,” saying the agency has the ability to collaborate with other local, federal or international agencies “to obtain information that may assist in case completion and prosecution efforts.”

Tait said he does not know whether ADOT has fielded any specific requests from ICE. But he said it is unlikely the federal agency sees Arizona records as useful since the state does not issue licenses to people not in this country legally.

Arizona was ordered by a federal court to license those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which allows those who came to this country illegally as children to remain and work. But Tait pointed out that ICE already has records of those people as they had to register for DACA.

As to other federal agencies, Tait said ADOT does not just open up its files.

“They have to articulate the ‘what,’ the ‘why’ and the ‘who’ in order for us to run the request,” he said.

“There’s no blanket requests and no one has open-ended access to the system,” Tait continued. “Each request is evaluated independently and individually.”

Tait also stressed that the use of the facial recognition software to prevent people from getting duplicate licenses is Arizona specific. He said the photos taken here are not shared with other states to determine if someone is licensed elsewhere.

“To my knowledge, these are not linked across states,” Tait said.

He said the rules are no different for the Real ID-compliant license documents that Arizonans can acquire. These are similar to regular state-issued licenses but will be accepted by the federal Transportation Security Agency to allow Arizonans to board aircraft after next year without a passport.

The only difference, Tait said, is that applicants have to provide additional documentation to prove not just identity but also their address. But he said the photos taken for these Real ID-compliant licenses also are not routinely shared with TSA or other federal agencies.

Allister Adel named new Maricopa County Attorney

Newly-appointed Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel talking to reporters after her sewaring-in on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
Newly-appointed Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel talking to reporters after her swearing-in on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

Allister Adel, an attorney in private practice and former executive director of the Maricopa County Bar Association, will be Maricopa County Attorney for the next year.

After more than a day in executive session, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors unanimously appointed Adel to finish off Bill Montgomery’s term as county attorney. 

Montgomery resigned from his post one day after Gov. Doug Ducey appointed him to the Arizona Supreme Court on September 4. Chief Deputy Rachel Mitchell, who was also in consideration for the appointment, became acting county attorney after Montgomery’s departure. 

Adel is the first woman to hold the job as chief prosecutor of the fourth largest county in the U.S. and already stated in her application she plans to run for election in 2020. 

After taking her oath of office, Adel said she plans to serve the office and Maricopa County with “integrity and honor.” She said her first priority is to be briefed on all pending cases by senior staff and then she will take the time to meet members in the office.

“I’m going to walk the halls and introduce myself to the team,” she said.

Speaking on a list of harassment controversies the office has faced recently, Adel said she will take any and all allegations seriously. 

“Things will be investigated and handled swiftly and appropriately, but justly.”

As the first woman to hold this job, Adel said she is honored, but says she didn’t earn the job for being a woman.

 “I earned this based on my merits … I am a character-driven leader and I think that will shine through.” 

During her short time at the Department of Child Safety, Adel made the news for sending the Governor’s Office a memo under the state’s whistle-blower statute regarding Ducey’s appointment of Greg McKay as DCS Director in 2015. The statute prohibits a government workplace manager from retaliating against an employee who alleges a violation of the law, mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, or an abuse of authority.

Mike Liburdi, Ducey’s general counsel at the time, confirmed it was Adel who sent the memo. The Governor’s Office refused to make her complaint public arguing it contained information considered attorney-client privilege. Liburdi said it’s because Adel has an attorney-client relationship with Ducey since DCS reports to the governor.

She previously told Yellow Sheet Report that as an outsider to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office she couldn’t say for certain whether she thought Montgomery did the job well while he was there, but she praised his dedication to seeking justice. 

Adel said she would seek a stronger working relationship with the courts and law enforcement than Montgomery had. 

“Especially as we start to have conversations about criminal justice reform,” she said.

Adel has held several different jobs since leaving the MCAO in 2011, including administrative law judge at the Arizona Department of Transportation, and  general counsel for Arizona Department of Child Safety.

She also said she’s a big believer in transparency and will strive to ensure the media and the public are able to access public records through the office. 

Montgomery had a shaky record when it came to fulfilling records requests in a timely manner during his tenure to the extent that the ACLU of Arizona sued him for not fulfilling records requests after a seven-month period. 

“If we are doing our job right, we have nothing to hide,” Adel said. 

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comment from Allister Adel and information on Adel’s background, including a whistleblower memo she wrote in 2015. 

Arizona electric vehicle infrastructure plan gets federal approval

Bob Palrud of Spokane, Wash. speaks with a fellow electric vehicle owner who is charging up at a station along Interstate 90, on Wednesday Sept. 14, 2022, in Billings, Mont. Palrud says distances between EV charging stations are always on his mind during lengthy journeys across the U.S. West where such infrastructure remains sparse. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Updates: Corrects word in 10th paragraph to show that fossil fuel emissions contribute to the formation of smog, not fog. It also corrects the statement in the 13th paragraph to say that the sales of new gas-powered vehicles will be phased out by 2035, not the complete phase-out of all gas-powered vehicles in the state. Quotes in paragraph 14 from Deborah Kapiloff are updated and her title is correction to say that she is a Transportation Electrification Policy Analyst with Western Resource Advocates.

The Federal Highway Administration announced Wednesday that 35 states, including Arizona, had their infrastructure plans for electric vehicles approved, which allows for construction of charging stations along highways across the state. 

The federal government gave Arizona $76.5 million through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The goal of this plan was to build more electric vehicle stations across the nation. This will help alleviate any anxiety or hesitation many people have about switching to electric vehicles. Many people previously feared being able to charge their vehicles on long distance trips. Now, EV chargers will be stationed along alternative fuel corridors in Arizona.  

According to a statement from the Arizona Department of Transportation, $11.3 million will immediately be made available to implement the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Plan. Another $16.3 million will be made available in October. The rest of the money will be implemented to Arizona over the next five years through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

IIJA was signed into federal law in 2021. Its purpose was to improve nationwide transportation and water infrastructure. It included $7.5 billion to deploy nationwide charging stations. According to The House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, the plan will add about 1.5 million jobs per year. 

Diane E. Brown, executive director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization focused on speaking out for public health, safety and wellbeing, predicts IIJA will help perk up the Arizona job market. Many of these jobs will be related to constructing and maintaining the charging stations.  

Construction for the new charging stations is expected to begin in the fall of 2023. The current plan is to build one station every 50 miles. Many of these stations will be constructed near existing buildings, including truck stops, rest stops, restaurants and shopping centers.  

 It is expected that this plan will help to reduce a phenomenon known as “range anxiety.” Many people are hesitant to buy electric vehicles or drive them on long distance trips. This is because, unlike everyday commutes, where they will have access to parking lot charging stations, they may have to go hundreds of miles. They may be fearful of being stranded without a place to charge, and eventually running out of power. 

The current plan includes Interstates 8, 10, 15, 17 and 19. These highways account for 20% of miles driven in Arizona. Locations for charging stations along non-interstate highways are still being determined. The next update to the NEVI plan will be announced in August 2023.  

Unlike traditional home charging stations, which may take hours to fully charge a vehicle, these corridor charging stations can charge your car in under 30 minutes, according to Deborah Kapiloff, Transportation Electrification Policy Analyst with Western Resource Advocates. This makes the stations more ideal for long distance travelers. 

According to Brown, benefits of switching to electric vehicles include improvement to public health and air quality. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, fossil fuels emitted by gas-powered cars and trucks contribute to air and water pollution. This contributes to the formation of smog and acid rain. 

The burning of fossil fuels, and the impacts on the environment also have an impact on human health. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute says the burning of fossil fuels can lead to asthma, cancer and heart disease. These health impacts will cost Americans up to $886.5 billion a year. Low-income communities and communities of color are impacted by these health effects at higher rates.  

Many people are intimidated by the upfront cost of electric vehicles, but according to Brown, “Electric vehicles are more cost competitive with gasoline vehicles at the dealership level. Electric vehicles over their lifetime, save consumers money through operating and maintenance costs.”  

Despite the positives of electric vehicles, many people are still hesitant. California is now pushing residents to move toward electric vehicles. The sales of new gas-powered vehicles will be phased out by 2035. Opponents believe that this change is unlawful. Brown thinks this change is unlikely to happen in Arizona, but that the transition to EVs will happen naturally.  

“We are going to continue to see growth in the EV adoption rate, especially with California’s most recent commitment to phasing out the sale of new fossil fueled vehicles by 2035,” Kapiloff said. “More and more car manufacturers are shifting their business models, away from internal combustion engines towards EVs. We are at the point where business and policy are aligning for an electric vehicle future, so I think we’re going to see massive growth in EV adoption. That is really exciting, but it also necessitates sound policy to ensure that the electric load from these vehicles is managed responsibly in a way that actually puts downward pressure on electric rates for consumers.”




Dennis Smith: A driving force of the Valley’s freeways

Dennis Smith (Photo by Paulina Pineda)
Dennis Smith (Photo by Paulina Pineda)

Dennis Smith said when he was first hired at the Maricopa Association of Governments, his contract was only two years long.

“And at two years I was ready to leave,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times. “Well, here we are 41 years later.”

Smith retired on April 6 as executive director of the regional planning agency, a position he held since 2003. During his time at MAG, he was instrumental in developing the region’s 911 system, something he said he was told “couldn’t be done.” He also led the charge on passing two successful transportation taxes, Proposition 300 in 1984 and Proposition 400 in 2004, which help fund the regional freeway and transportation system.

Soft-spoken, he still uses ‘we’ when discussing MAG’s work. “I say ‘we’ but I’m not working there anymore,” he said. “I already miss it.” But in a lot of ways, Smith helped shape the organization into what it is today, and after more than four decades working there, it has become a significant part of his life. “In a lot of ways, he is MAG,” former Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs said in a farewell video the agency created.

Cap Times Q&AHow did you get started at MAG?

I came to Arizona to get my master’s degree at ASU. I’m from Montana and I was running a children’s home for Native American kids in Cheyenne – the reservation. And I thought, well, I need to go get the degree. I had a degree in education and I was going to get a degree in criminal justice and ASU was one of the only schools that had them at that time. I was enrolled in graduate school and couldn’t find a job. I finally went to the job service agency and I saw this thing that said ‘CJ,’ and I knew that was criminal justice, at this thing MAG. And I said “What is MAG?” And they said, “We don’t know what it is but, if you want to do an interview, we’ll give you an interview.” So they set up the interview, I went in, interviewed twice and ended up getting hired. My first day was December 13, 1976. I was going to school and working at MAG and doing their criminal justice coordination at that time.

You mentioned you ran a children’s home. How did you become involved with that?

I volunteered to teach handicapped children to learn how to swim. The psychologist who was running the center became a great friend and he said, “When you get out of school you’ve got a job.” We took over a children’s home that was actually bathing Mexican kids and putting Clorox in the water. We really had to turn over a place that was really poorly run. I ended up going to work at a mental hospital in Montana and from there I ran a children’s home in Montana on the reservation. … I never thought I had the correct degree for what I was doing. I was running a children’s home at 24 years old and had 70 kids and 25 employees. So I thought I needed the right degree so I came down here to get it.

What led to your transition from MAG’s criminal justice arm to transportation?

I transitioned to the other side of the office, to the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, after I worked in criminal justice. I was a lobbyist for the league. And then my boss, Jack DeBolske, said, “I want you to go back to the MAG side of the office and we’re looking at a sales tax for transportation.” And I said, “Well, Jack, I don’t know a thing about that.” He said, “Well, you’re smart, you can figure it out.” So I went back to MAG and staffed a committee that was looking at the tax. … With the sales tax we realized we could build a lot more of the system – and the rest is history. There’s 181 miles of center-line freeway, which has really been a creation of MAG. And we’ve kept with it. I’ve worked with seven or eight (Arizona Department of Transportation) directors, but MAG is the thread of continuity for the freeway system.

I’m 24 years old. What was transportation like in Maricopa County in the ‘80s? I hear there were only two interstates.

I-10 didn’t even get to Goodyear, Arizona.

What do you love about transportation?

Transportation is very complicated and especially transportation planning. But I’m all about implementation. I have a planning degree, I used to work at a planning agency, but I don’t believe in planning. I believe in getting things done. So transportation was a good fit for me. I can drive on the freeway system and know all the meetings, everything we had to do, to make those segments happen.

Out of all the projects you worked on while at MAG, which one are you proudest of?

It’s like choosing from my children – very difficult. MAG has so many great programs. Domestic violence, homelessness, 911, the freeway program. The freeway program actually created this valley, so I’d be the proudest of the freeway program. But the human services programs at MAG are right behind it.

Why dedicate 41 years to MAG?

It was a very creative place and I could keep changing it so I would stay interested in it. We hardly had any employees when I started, maybe two or three in the main office and 20-something over at ADOT. Now there’s 107 employees and the budget is way larger than when I started. So I got to create something, which was very rewarding.

Did you ever think you’d stay in Arizona this long?

I knew I was gonna’ go back to Montana. It’s a beautiful state, and I talked about it incessantly. And here I am. I married a lady from Tempe, Arizona, so I’m not leaving.

There was a former Denver Broncos player named Dennis Smith, which my editor described as a “bone-crunching strong safety.” Any good at football?

As a senior I weighed 228 pounds – the biggest kid on the football team. I was the center and I was a nose guard. Football taught me a lot about life. The center calls the blocking, tells the quarterback what plays are going to work, and the nose guard is in there mixing it up, so it’s a perfect position for me.

Ducey abandons suit to stop deferred action recipients from getting driver’s licenses


After fighting the issue in court for years, Gov. Doug Ducey has finally agreed to issue driver’s licenses to all deferred action recipients.

In an announcement Wednesday, the state Department of Transportation said anyone who has an Employment Authorization Card issued by the Department of Homeland Security is entitled to a state license to operate a motor vehicle. The change is immediate.

The action comes as Ducey gave up trying to appeal a 2018 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell that the state was required to issue licenses to everyone the federal government has allowed to remain this country.

It also comes years after the U.S. Supreme Court slapped down the state’s ill-fated bid to keep “dreamers” from being licensed. But Ducey insisted that the state was not obligated to issue licenses to other deferred-action recipients, like victims of domestic violence.

Gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak declined to comment, saying decisions on the lawsuit were being made by the state Department of Transportation. But Ducey had previously told Capitol Media Services that he wanted to pursue the litigation, even after a federal judge ruled against him.

That decision will cost taxpayers.

ADOT reports the state’s legal expenses to date of nearly $370,000. And that doesn’t count what the state may owe the National Immigration Law Center which filed suit.

The case is a spinoff of the original lawsuit filed against the state after then-Gov. Jan Brewer directed ADOT not to issue licenses to those who were part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program enacted by the Obama administration.

Brewer argued that DACA is merely an administrative decision not to deport the dreamers. And she said DACA recipients do not meet the requirements of a 1996 state law that says licenses are available only to those whose presence in the country is “authorized by federal law.”

A federal appeals court quashed the policy, saying only the federal government can decide who is in this country legally.

One claim in that lawsuit was the state was not being fair, as it had been providing licenses for years to those in other deferred-action programs. So in its bid to justify denying licenses to dreamers, the state stopped issuing licenses to those in these other groups.

The appellate ruling ordering the state to license dreamers did not help these other deferred action recipients as they were not plaintiffs in the original lawsuit, resulting in this 2016 lawsuit.

In his ruling last year, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell slapped the state for what he said was playing litigation games, changing its policies in an attempt at first to justify denying licenses to dreamers and, when that didn’t work, to deny licenses to other deferred-action recipients. In both cases, he said, the state was trying to decide, illegally, that it could determine who is in this country legally.

Campbell also rejected claims by Douglas Northup, the private attorney Ducey hired at state expense, that those other deferred-action recipients actually could get a license − if they produced certain other evidence.

“Indeed, when asked during oral argument where a person could go to learn of this policy and how to comply with it, defense counsel was unaware of any place where it had been publicized,” the judge wrote.

Ducey announces completion of freeway that connects east, west valleys

Construction vehicles ride on the Ed Pastor Freeway in southwest Phoenix, which is set to open by the end of the year. (Photo courtesy Arizona Department of Transportation
Construction vehicles ride on the Ed Pastor Freeway in southwest Phoenix, which is set to open by the end of the year. (Photo courtesy Arizona Department of Transportation)

Gov. Doug Ducey announced the completion of the controversial 202 South Mountain Freeway decades in the making, but he couldn’t say when it will open.

The $1.7 billion project, the largest highway project in state history, was made possible by voters through the passage of Prop 300 in 1985 and Prop 400 in 2004. Construction finished three years early and saved taxpayers $100 million.

“As many more people choose Arizona we’re making sure our infrastructure remains some of the best in America,” Ducey said.  “The project was a massive undertaking that required decades of work for local, state, tribal, federal and private partners.”

The governor said he has budgeted an additional $6 million to hire new Department of Public Safety patrol officers to monitor the roadway, which is expected to have 117,000 cars a day. Department of Transportation Director John Halikowski said the freeway is expected to open by the end of the year after ADOT completes its last round of inspections.

The 22-mile freeway that connects the east and west valley, Ahwatukee Foothills and Laveen, is named after the late Congressman Ed Pastor, who made significant contributions to the state’s infrastructure.

Although it’s expected to open soon, it’s not finished. Some parts still need to be paved, an interchange at 32nd street needs to be built, as does a bridge for pedestrians and a walking and biking path in Ahwatukee.

Those final touches could cause parts of the freeway to be closed.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego highlighted the economic impact of the project and said that by better connecting the east and west valley, more people will be able to contribute to different parts of the area’s economy and give opportunities for more businesses to sprout up and benefit from the traffic.

“You will see benefits from this freeway whether you live in this section of Phoenix, or whether you’re coming from the east valley, or west,” Gallego said. “Whether you’re a pedestrian, a driver or a bus rider, you have something to celebrate in today’s bridge.”

The freeway stems from Interstate 10 in west Phoenix, and runs through parts of the Gila River Indian Community and communities nestled by South Mountain.

Ducey stands by $32 vehicle-registration fee

The first piece of legislation filed for the 2019 legislative session may already be doomed.

Gov. Doug Ducey hinted on Tuesday that he will not sign any legislation repealing a new vehicle-license registration fee, despite the fee coming in higher than anticipated.

“That’s not on our priority list,” Ducey told reporters, when asked if he would support such a repeal.

Ducey’s comments followed the filing of the first bill for the upcoming legislative, which aims to undo the fee the governor signed into law this year. Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, introduced legislation last week to repeal the fee that is anticipated to bring in $185 million from state motorists in order to fund highway patrol.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)

When lawmakers passed the legislation earlier this year, they were told the fee assessed would likely be about $18 per motorist per year and would be charged when residents renewed their vehicle registration. The fee is set by the director of the Department of Transportation. And when the final number for the vehicle fee was announced late last month, it came out to $32 per vehicle — a 77 percent increase from what lawmakers anticipated.

The vehicle-license fee had strong support from Ducey during the legislative session because it halted the need for lawmakers to sweep funds earmarked for road construction and repair to fund the highway patrol. Beyond that, the measure was pitched as way to free up other dollars in the state budget in order to fund the governor’s legislative priorities — specifically, to help fund teacher pay raises.

Ducey did not outright say he would veto any bills repealing the fee, but he dismissed the public safety fee as a done deal.

“That’s been passed,” he said Tuesday.

ADOT Director John Halikowski was tasked with calculating the cost of operation for the Department of Public Safety’s Highway Patrol division. The new fee would cover the total, including a ten-percent buffer.

The Highway Patrol budget will be $168 million, or $185 million with the buffer, which was higher than what legislative budget analysts predicted earlier this year.

Couple that with fewer motorists to charge than state budget analysts projected, because some drivers already prepaid their registrations for two or five years, and that’s how ADOT arrived at the $32 figure.

Although the actual fee was higher than projected, Ducey expressed no regrets in signing the bill enacting the new vehicle-registration fee earlier this year.

“There is a fee and we will leave it to ADOT to set the fee,” Ducey said.

Ugenti-Rita, who voted against the fee in February, fundamentally opposed the way lawmakers approved it — via a work-around the Legislature used to avoid a two-thirds majority vote to pass the fee. It was the “worst way to govern,” she said.

A 1992 voter-approved constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote from both legislative chambers to pass a tax increase. Ugenti-Rita called the Legislature’s actions in allowing the ADOT director to set the fee “sneaky.”

The maneuver allowed lawmakers to pass the measure with a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote.

“The process was violated,” Ugenti-Rita said. “It cut the public out of the discussion by introducing it with the agency director setting a ‘fee’ and not having it introduced the traditional way, which is to put the dollar amount in statute.”

As legislation implementing the fee was advancing through the Legislature, opponents cried foul, calling the fee a tax increase. Ducey, who promised not to raise taxes while in office, maintains that it is a fee and not a tax. Passing the fee through the Legislature by a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote gives the governor more ground to stand on his argument.

Some other Republican lawmakers are also irked the new fee came in higher than expected, and similar to Ugenti-Rita, are mulling over the idea of introducing legislation to repeal or cap the fee.

While he hasn’t filed any legislation to that effect, Sen. Warren Petersen wants to cap the fee at $18 — the amount budget analysts originally projected.

But Ducey’s comments today indicate any such legislation may be a lost cause.

Staff writer Ben Giles contributed to this report.

Ducey vetoes increase in car insurance requirements

This April 14, 2017, file photo provided by the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) shows the mangled remains of cars involved in a fatal accident on the Northbound Interstate 17 in Phoenix, Ariz. Northbound Interstate 17 is closed following the wrong-way crash. The DPS said there have been 737 incidents involving wrong-way drivers reported so far in 2017, resulting in 37 related DUI arrests. Gov. Doug Ducey reacted Wednesday, June 7, to the latest fatal wrong-way crash on a Phoenix-area freeway by ordering state agencies to take steps to combat the deadly problem. (Arizona Department of Public Safety via AP, File)
This April 14, 2017, file photo provided by the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) shows the mangled remains of cars involved in a fatal accident on the Northbound Interstate 17 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Arizona Department of Public Safety via AP, File)

Motorists are going to be able to operate their cars and trucks on Arizona roads with the same level of liability insurance they had to purchase in 1972.

In one of his final acts of the just-completed legislative session, Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed legislation which would have nearly doubled the amount of coverage necessary to ensure that they can compensate the people drivers injure and the damage they cause.

“I am open to the idea of revising our minimum liability limits,” the governor said in his veto message.

But Ducey also expressed concern that increasing those limits beyond what they were when he was 8 years old – he’s 54 now – would make insurance less affordable for those at the bottom of the income scale. And that, he said, could result in some motorists choosing to drop coverage altogether, even though it’s required under state law and carries a $500 minimum penalty for a first-time violation.

The veto is a major defeat for Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, who has waged a multi-year effort to bring the minimum coverage more into line with how costs of everything from medical care to car repairs have changed.

Current law requires motorists to purchase so-called 15/30/10 coverage: $15,000 for injuries to any one person, $30,000 for all injuries from the same mishap, and $10,000 in property damage, usually the other motorist’s vehicle.

During debate on the measure, Brophy McGee said when those limits were enacted in 1972 she believes there was a presumption that they would be adjusted to keep pace with the cost of medical care and even the increasing price of vehicles.

That, however, has not happened, with the insurance industry in opposition amid concerns that the higher premiums will equal fewer people buying coverage.

This year’s measure would have boosted the minimum to $25,000 for injuries to one person, $50,000 for all injuries, and $25,000 for property damage.

Once again the proposal faced opposition from some elements of the industry.

David Childers who lobbies for the Property and Casualty Insurance Association of America, testified during hearings there’s no reason to believe the higher limits are necessary. He cited figures showing that the average liability claim for injuries is about $13,700; for property damage, Childers said the figure is in the $3,000 to $4,000 range.

Brophy McGee, however, said actual figures gathered by the state Department of Transportation put the average actual losses from a motor vehicle accident resulting in death in excess of $1.5 million. For other injuries, she said, the figure approaches $93,000.

And Brophy McGee said the typical property damage done exceeds $11,500 — all more than what motorists need to carry.

But gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said that still leaves unaddressed the question of cost.

“What we wouldn’t want to happen is that people’s rates go up for people particularly on the lower end of the economic ladder who are already struggling to get by who might be forced to either not drive or not be able to afford insurance,” he said. “What we wouldn’t want to have is more people on the road uninsured,” Scarpinato said, something that could raise premiums for everyone else who is covered.

That goes to the question of cost.

Attorney Geoff Trachtenberg acknowledged during legislative hearings that the higher limits would raise the premiums by $91 a year for motorists who now buy the minimum. But he said lawmakers should consider the trade-offs.

For example, he said, if at-fault motorists have more insurance, that will enable the health insurance companies of those they injure to recoup some of their costs from the at-fault motorist — or at least that person’s insurer. That includes the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System which provides health coverage for those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about $28,700 for a family of three.

And Trachtenberg said if people have more insurance, that should lower the premiums for underinsured motorist coverage. That is optional insurance that motorists can buy to protect themselves if they are in an accident with someone whose coverage does not cover their full medical costs.
Other bills vetoed Wednesday by Ducey include:

– Mandating the State Historic Preservation Office to allow “supervised volunteers” to determine if property has artifacts and human remains as a method of expediting the ability of ranchers to develop their own property. Ducey said he already has taken steps administratively to improve the process and remains open to anything that addresses the needs of everyone who is affected by historic preservation laws.

– Requiring hearings held by state agencies to use the same rules as judicial proceedings in presenting evidence. The governor said while he wants to reduce regulatory burdens on businesses and individuals he fears this measure would only complicate matters, forcing those in disputes with agencies to have to hire attorneys for what would become a much more formal proceeding.

– Giving Pima County more leeway in getting voter approval of a sports authority district. Ducey said the county already has sufficient authority and he said the law would eliminate “important protections” for voters.

– Providing more latitude for how the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority spends money that it has. The governor said he wants a larger discussion to cut costs and make sure that “more of these dollars go to law enforcement and not to administrative overhead.”

– Repealing a law that prohibits a state employee from becoming a member of the main state pension system before the 27th week of employment. The governor said he feared the change would harm the state budget.

– Allowing the Department of Revenue to adopt a system that collects sales tax at the time a transaction is made. “I am concerned about the unintended consequences this bill could have on private industry,” Ducey wrote.

Getting driver’s license puts Arizonans into ‘perpetual criminal lineup’

Detectives in the Arizona Department of Transportation review driver's license photos using facial recognition software to help catch fraud. (Photo by ADOT)
Detectives in the Arizona Department of Transportation review driver’s license photos using facial recognition software to help catch fraud. (Photo by ADOT)

If you have a driver’s license in Arizona, your face now lives in a government database that uses facial recognition technology to see if you’re really who you say you are, or if you’re stealing someone else’s identity.

But that’s not the only use of the system – law enforcement at all levels can also run photos using the facial recognition technology to see if you’re wanted for a crime.

That’s what one researcher refers to as a “perpetual lineup.” Most people living in Arizona, at any given time, are part of a constant police lineup, simply by virtue of having a driver’s license.

Here’s how it works: After someone at the Motor Vehicle Division takes your photo, your face is scanned by a system based on a proprietary algorithm that analyzes facial features. The system compares your face against the 19 million photos in the state’s driver’s license database to look for similarities. If an image is similar enough, the system will flag it for further review.

The Arizona Department of Transportation publicly boasts about the more than 100 cases it has taken to court for fraud using the technology, which has been in place since early 2015.

But beyond press releases touting its successes, the department does not inform people who have applied for a license that their photos will be scanned perpetually for law enforcement purposes. No such disclosure appears on the license application.

ADOT officials say they believe people know about the technology and its full usage despite the lack of disclosure. And department officials say the public should welcome the searches.

Michael Lockhart, the chief of ADOT’s inspector general’s office, said the department hasn’t heard any concerns from citizens about privacy or security.

“We’ve never had anybody that has asked us or been concerned about it,” Lockhart said. “Frankly, if you look at the whole concept of a driver’s license or an ID, you willingly go get those. It isn’t like you’re thinking this is all going to be private.”

Motorists must have 
a driver’s license

While some groups take issue with facial recognition in general, most say it’s not necessarily the use of the technology to root out fraud in identification that is an issue. When such a powerful technology is available, missions could expand to other areas, experts say.

And law enforcement’s access to the program means the technology at ADOT is being used outside its intended purpose of finding fraud, they say.

Clare Garvie
Clare Garvie

Couple the concerns about the perpetual lineup with the lack of disclosure to license-holders, and you have a problematic situation, said Clare Garvie, a fellow at the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology. Garvie authored a study, “Perpetual Line-Up,” on facial recognition that is widely cited for its public records-based dive into how law enforcement uses state-run facial recognition databases, and how little oversight there is on the government’s use of such technology.

“If you don’t know that a system is in place, you actually don’t have the choice of  consenting to it or not,” Garvie said.

Informed consent, through giving notice to people that their faces will be matched up against millions of others when they apply for a license, is a basic tenet of privacy, Jim Dempsey, the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, said.

Even if notice is given, it’s unlikely that people would opt out of getting a license because facial recognition technology is used because people will decide driving a car and having a legal ID outweigh the risks, Dempsey said.

“It’s an important element. The lack of it is an issue, but it’s one that should be corrected and would be easy to correct,” he said.

Why they say 
it’s needed

The Transportation Department says the use of facial recognition allows it to maintain the quality and accuracy of the IDs it issues.

On average, the system flags 200 new licenses each day, according to ADOT spokesman Ryan Harding. Of the 200, 5 percent, or 10, typically move to a second level and require further evaluation. Of those 10, usually one will advance to a final step and become an active investigation, he said.

The list of criminals charged because of the facial recognition program is extensive. Examples include a man who stole the identity of a dead baby, a sex offender who stole identities and racked up charges under other names, and a woman who used stolen identities to get government benefits she wasn’t entitled to.

The technology has also been used in immigration enforcement. A statement of probable cause for an arrest in September by Immigration and Customs Enforcement show ADOT flagged an undocumented man for applying for a license under someone else’s name.

When ADOT searched his house, they found two guns, ID documents and Social Security cards in other names. The man, Mario Rivera-Gamboa of Mexico, was previously deported in 1999, court documents say, after he was convicted of aggravated assault and a drive-by shooting. He wasn’t at his house when the department searched it, so a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Jim Dempsey
Jim Dempsey

Dempsey, of Berkeley, said there shouldn’t be cause for alarm about the matching of driver’s license photos to others in the database to find fraud.

And law enforcement using the technology to search for potential criminals is at least a government-to-government pursuit, he said.

Still, “it is using data arguably for a purpose other than the purpose for which it was collected, which theoretically is incompatible with the concept of fair information practices,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey’s concerns about facial recognition apply more to how people can fight back if they believe they have been flagged inappropriately. He also questioned how such systems will be handled as technology continues to advance, and what role the private sector may be granted. Those issues need to be handled on a case-by-case basis – there’s not a specific rule that applies to all uses of facial recognition, he said.

What the law says (nothing)

The department claims the use of such technology to capture fraud helps it comply with the federal REAL ID Act, which increased standards for identification documents. Though the REAL ID Act does not explicitly call for facial recognition, it does say states need to take measures to reduce fraud.

Jay Stanley
Jay Stanley

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the government should be transparent about its use of such technology and how effective it is. States should also be reluctant to share their databases with other entities for other purposes, he said.

“DMV photo databases are probably the most comprehensive databases in existence,” which means they’re “very, very powerful” tools for potential surveillance, something groups like the ACLU worry could be a next step, Stanley said.

Arizona isn’t alone in its use of facial recognition software in its driver’s license database. Most states use the technology. And while many states also allow law enforcement access to the program to some degree, others, like Vermont, ban the use of such technology entirely, and some require a warrant or court order to scan faces.

ADOT points to a 2004 executive order, issued by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, which created its departmental inspector general. The order says the inspector general’s office is designed to deter fraud in ADOT’s programs.

Aside from the 2004 order, there are no laws that specifically apply to the facial recognition program. The Arizona Legislature has not weighed in or approved the usage of the technology. There are no parameters set up in law to govern who can access the system, its oversight and its general usage.

The department also entered into an agreement with the FBI in February that allows the agency to request searches using the facial recognition program.

And ADOT did write a policy, issued on December 30, 2016, that lays out how facial recognition should be administered.

The policy details how law enforcement can utilize the system. While no law enforcement agencies have direct access to the database, ADOT conducts searches comparing law enforcement images to driver’s license photos.

While the ADOT policy governs the program, agency policies can change as the state’s administration changes since no policy is written in law.

How to search

In order for a search to be granted, the search must involve people suspected of committing a crime or “who law enforcement may suspect is about to commit a crime.” People could also be involved in activities that are threats to public safety, sought as part of a criminal investigation or “intelligence-gathering effort,” applicants for a security clearance, have a warrant issued for them, suspected of benefits fraud or labeled as a missing person.

Those requesting a search have to submit a form, and they must either be a law enforcement agency or a “governmental non-criminal justice agency” involved in searching for missing people or investigating fraud.

ADOT documents who conducts searches in an audit log. The log, obtained through a public records request, shows 90 searches at the behest of law enforcement agencies in the past six months. Twenty of those found no matches, while the majority of them found potential hits. Most of the searches were requested by the Department of Public Safety.

Harding, the ADOT spokesman, said the department’s inspector general’s office reviews the requests and “will reject any that aren’t connected with a police investigation, court order or court proceeding,” but he couldn’t provide any examples of rejected requests.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties nonprofit focused on privacy, says there should at the very least be a court involved before law enforcement can access millions of unwitting people’s identities, its staff attorney, Adam Schwartz, said.

It’s really hard to function in a car-based society without a driver’s license, and people shouldn’t be subjected to an invasive technology when they decide to follow the law and get a legal document that allows them to drive, Schwartz said. It’s a misuse of data to collect data, in this case images, for one thing and use them for other purposes, he said.

Plus, he pointed out, in many states, including Arizona, agencies have started using facial recognition technology outside of any formal approval from the public and its representatives, state lawmakers, Schwartz said.

“Before government starts using powerful technology to surveil the public, there ought to be a more open and transparent process where the public controls whether or not this is picked up,” he said.


GOP senator wants to cut, cap vehicle registration fee

Sen. Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert)
Sen. Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert)

Angered that a new charge for Arizona auto owners will cost double what was forecasted, a Republican lawmaker has proposed reducing and capping the fee.

Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said a public safety fee charged when Arizonans register their vehicles should be cut from $32 to at least $18, the amount state budget analysts estimated the fee would cost as lawmakers voted on it in February and April.

The fee is intended to fully fund the state’s Highway Patrol within the Department of Public Safety, but is set by the director of the Department of Transportation.

Essentially, ADOT Director John Halikowski is tasked with dividing the Highway Patrol budget, plus a 10 percent buffer, by the number of vehicles that need to be registered this year. With a budget of roughly $168 million and 5.8 million vehicles to register, Halikowski arrived at $32.

Petersen, who voted against the bill granting the fee-setting authority to the ADOT director, said the higher-than-advertised charge is “exactly what people feared.”

“We always have these estimates and people make their decisions off of estimates, but how often are those predictions accurate?” Petersen said.

Capping the fee at $18 would at least reflect the terms that lawmakers thought they were agreeing to when they voted for the fee, he said.

“I think a lot of people based their decision off that $18 number, so I would hope we could get enough people to agree to that,” Petersen said. “I’d like zero, but the lower the better.”

Capping the fee would have a ripple effect that threatens Gov. Doug Ducey’s spending priorities.

When the House approved a bill to create the fee in February, it was pitched as a way to ensure that Highway Patrol operations were fully-funded, thus eliminating the need for a longstanding practice of sweeping funds earmarked for road construction and repairs. Lawmakers had recently begun to allocate money from the General Fund to the Highway User Revenue Fund, which receives money from various gas taxes and vehicle fees and was the source of the swept funds.

But as the Senate took up the bill for a vote in April, the fee was sold as way to help pay for Ducey’s proposal to give teachers a 20 percent pay bump.

Like Petersen, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, was fundamentally opposed to granting another agency director the authority to set a fee. For most Republicans, the maneuver is no different than a hospital assessment approved by the Legislature in 2013. That fee, which was essential to funding then-Gov. Jan Brewer’s push for Medicaid expansion, was pilloried by Republicans who viewed it as an illegal bypass of the Arizona Constitution’s limitations on generating new revenue.

It takes a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to adopt new taxes or fees. The bill to create the fee, and give the authority of setting it to an agency director, was approved by just a 17-13 vote in the Senate.

But even Yarbrough said he was willing to vote for the bill, had it been necessary to get the 16 votes needed for its approval, despite his personal objections.

“I also realize that, if we’re going to accomplish certain other vital objectives, sometimes you have to make those kinds of decisions,” he said in April.

The day after the vote, Yarbrough said that “other vital objectives” was obviously a reference to fulfilling Ducey’s vow of a 20-percent raise. The fee was then estimated to free up $107 million annually, he added.

“The commitment is to get to the 20 percent in 2020 and to do so without taxes,” Yarbrough said. “That, of course, with me, involves a couple of winks over what we did yesterday on the (vehicle registration fee).”

Petersen is banking on buyer’s remorse from some lawmakers who voted for the bill, like Rep. Noel Campbell, the Prescott Republican who sponsored the measure. But Petersen’s got a headstart when it comes to support from his fellow Republicans, a majority of whom voted against it.

Only four of the Senate’s 17 GOP lawmakers voted for the bill. In the House, 10 Republicans voted for it, and 24 voted against it.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for the governor, warned that capping the fee now would upset the balance of funding that was freed up for road maintenance – and left unsaid, the General Fund dollars essential to funding other areas of the budget, like education.

“The fee was intended to fund 110 percent of the highway patrol budget to protect public safety, and free up resources for infrastructure, including in rural areas of the state where resources our especially needed,” Ptak said. “Any reforms to the fee should be responsible and keep those priorities in mind.”

Governor adds time to renew driver’s licenses


Arizonans whose licenses are set to expire will be on the road for another year without having to get a new license — or, for seniors, the eye test that goes with it.

And it’s all because of COVID-19.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday extended an earlier executive order that eliminates the need for Arizonans to have to visit Motor Vehicle Division offices to renew their licenses.

That order, which expires at the end of September, added an extra six months.

This new order, which runs through the end of the year, adds an extra 365 days to the expiration date. For most Arizonans the change should not mean much.

After all, once drivers get a regular license, it lasts until age 65. The only requirement is to get a new picture every 12 years.

At 65, however, things change.

New licenses last just five years. And there’s a requirement to get a vision test, something that requires an in-person visit.

The governor’s order requires all state and local police and all government agencies and election officials to accept all driver licenses with expiration dates between March 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020 as valid for one year after the printed expiration date.

And what of Arizona motorists stopped in other states?

Doug Nick of the Arizona Department of Transportation said the extension is added automatically to the driver’s record in the MVD data base. More to the point, he said it becomes part of the Problem Driver Pointer System which is used by all motor vehicle agencies and is accessible to all law enforcement officers nationwide.

“That means if an Arizona driver who’s had this extension is pulled over in another state, that office would have their accurate license status,” Nick said.

There is an alternate workaround of sorts for those who don’t want to be caught with what appears to be an expired license.

According to the governor’s office, Arizonans can apply online for a duplicate driver’s license which will have the new expiration date. But the cost is $12.

Nick also said that insurance companies also should have access to the state database to determine who has a valid license. But he said if motorists are unsure they should check with their agent or insurer to make sure they have the most current information.

The original March directive came after Ducey issued his stay-at-home order. But it was aimed at those 65 and older based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people at higher risk, including older adults, should avoid crowds as much as possible.

Ducey said nothing has changed.

“Avoiding close contact with others, especially for Arizonans 65 or older, remains an important precaution to mitigate COVID-19 impacts,” the governor said in his executive order.

It also hasn’t helped that the outbreak has increased wait times, not only at MVD offices but also just to get through by phone. The most recent report says the average wait time to get into the call center in June was 30 minutes.

There has been another ripple effect from the outbreak.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had set an Oct. 1 deadline for people across the nation to get a Real ID-compliant driver’s license — one which requires additional documentation — if they want to board commercial aircraft. Those are issued by the Motor Vehicle Division.

But federal officials have deferred the start date for that a full year, until Oct. 1, 2021, eliminating what could have been a last-minute rush to MVD offices.

Here is what is working in Arizona


The business and private sectors should appreciate the goals of the Ducey administration’s initiative to improve government referred to as the Arizona Management System (AMS), which focuses on understanding “customer” needs, identifying problems, improving processes and measuring results. There are 42 state agencies that have all engaged in the process of identifying opportunity to increase efficiencies and value while delivering on core departmental functions.  The following are but a handful of examples of what is working in Arizona:

The Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) in response to calls from the Arizona business community called for streamlined regulation. Immediately the Governor and Legislature approved fundamental changes in the administration of Arizona’s regulatory structure, including Gov. Doug Ducey placing a moratorium on new regulations again this year. To date, Arizona has eliminated over 1,000 regulations, which equates to millions saved. The state’s commitment to reducing red tape and paperwork makes it considerably easier and more efficient for businesses to locate, start up and expand.

Steve Trussell
Steve Trussell

The Arizona Mexico Commission (AMC) is committed to making sure Arizona’s borders move at the speed of business and is actively working to reduce border wait times through innovative programs like Unified Cargo Processing, a joint U.S.-Mexico inspection program piloted at the Nogales Port of Entry. Safe infrastructure is a priority for both sides of the border; it keeps commerce and tourism moving.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) created an online permitting platform that has dramatically improved permitting time frames with an estimated economic benefit of $145 million each year.  What’s even better, is that ADEQ funded the initiative by finding surplus funds – better service for no additional cost. ADEQ has also accelerated their hazardous waste clean-up program (known as WQARF). This equates to better efficiency and increased environmental protection simultaneously.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) invested significant effort into public awareness,  which has improved the public’s understanding and interest in water supply issues. This has been important as it has also led to a broader understanding in the local and State government of what we need to do to address these issues.

ADWR has also taken the steps necessary to improve customer service in permitting and application review. An example of this is computing and issuance of water recharge credits, taking a process that historically could take 2 years and reducing that in some instances to mere weeks or even days.

The Arizona State Land Department (ASLD) has evolved from simply managing land to realizing their critical role in economic development by improving a cumbersome commercial sales process and reducing time to attain rights of way approvals.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGF) has also seen significant change. For example, over the past two years the AZGF has significantly reduced the time it takes to report Big Game Hunt Draw results to its “customers” using AMS tools.  What used to take up to 65 days to complete now takes less than 25 days.

Recently, there was a proposal to list the Sonoran desert tortoise on the Endangered Species List.  Had this unwarranted listing been imposed, it would have had the potential to adversely impact Arizona’s economy by billions of dollars. The Department used internal priority establishment tools to ensure that the appropriate listing decision was made, which served both conservation and economic development.

The Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) has been assessing the potential for damaging flooding and debris flows in the aftermath of wildfires. This study made reasonable assumptions about wildfires that could occur and employed innovative modeling techniques to identify downstream areas that could be at risk of flooding or debris flows that would impact Arizona communities.

AZGS has also developed the first comprehensive state-wide compilation of known fissures and landslides, available on the on-line AZGS Natural Hazards Viewer. Knowing where fissures or landslides exist is fundamental for either avoiding them or mitigating their negative impacts.

The Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT/MVD) goal is to get customers in and out of the office – on average – in fewer than 30 minutes. MVD averages slightly over 20 minutes in urban offices and just under 19 minutes in rural locations. Three years ago, that number was 52 minutes. Additionally, an analysis of MVD customer traffic shows an upsurge in online usage at ServiceArizona.com, an increase of about 286,000 online transactions; which is essentially the same amount of traffic experienced at two large urban “brick and mortar” MVD offices. Finally, since ADOT began using facial recognition technology and training in 2015 to protect Arizonans from identity theft, detectives have brought a multitude of these cases to court.

AMS is simply one great example of how government can and should operate at the speed of business, efficiently and by assisting economic growth.  A different approach has led to a vastly improved outcome which has greatly benefited Arizona’s citizens.


Steve Trussell is executive director of the Arizona Rock Products Association.

Judge hits state with $2m in legal fees for ‘dreamers’ license suit


The unsuccessful bid by Gov. Jan Brewer and the state to keep “dreamers” from getting licenses to drive is going to cost Arizona nearly $2 million.

In an order Monday, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell said the challengers to the former governor’s executive order are entitled to almost $1.9 million in legal fees. And Campbell agreed they are owed more than $81,000 in other costs.

That’s on top of whatever the state had to pay its own outside attorneys in the losing legal effort, a number that the Attorney General’s Office said was not immediately available.

“That’s outrageous,” Brewer told Capitol Media Services when informed of Campbell’s order. And the now-former governor said she still believes her directive to deny licenses to dreamers based on her reading of state law was legal, no matter what the courts ruled.

“I believe in the judicial system,” she said. ” But I think that our interpretation was correct.”

But paying this tab isn’t going to end the amount of taxpayer money being spent over the fight on who is entitled to legally drive in the state.

Gov. Doug Ducey is currently engaged in a separate and protracted legal battle to deny state-issued licenses to other “deferred action” recipients who were not part of the first lawsuit.

There is no current tally of what that fight is costing taxpayers. But as of a year ago the state Department of Transportation said it already had paid out almost $210,000 to lawyers representing the governor in that legal fight.

And if Ducey loses, taxpayers again will be on the hook for the legal fees of challengers.

Campbell’s order finally ends the first legal fight that goes back to 2012.

That’s when the Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It says that those who arrived in this country illegally as children could stay without fear of deportation and even legally work if they met certain other conditions. At last count there were about 31,000 DACA recipients in Arizona.

Brewer, in an executive order, directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to deny licenses to DACA recipients, saying they are not qualified under a 1996 state law that says licenses are available only to those whose presence is “authorized by federal law.” She specifically argued that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has no legal authority to permit DACA recipients to remain and work.

That argument failed to convince federal judges who said Arizona cannot decide for itself who is legally entitled to be in the country. In fact, appellate Judge Harry Pregerson wrote that Brewer’s order was motivated by “a dogged animus” against DACA recipients.

Even after Brewer left office at the end of 2014, the state kept fighting the lawsuit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a final ruling earlier this year. That paved the way for Campbell to award legal fees to the challengers, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Immigration Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.

What’s now left is Ducey’s own legal fight with deferred-action recipients which in some ways is a spinoff of the original — and now lost — legal battle.

In contesting Brewer’s order, one of the arguments made by challengers is that the state was not being fair because it had been providing licenses for years to those in other deferred-action programs. These included domestic violence victims, those with pending visa applications, and those allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons.

So in its bid to buttress the decision to deny licenses to dreamers, the state stopped issuing licenses to those in the other covered groups. And since they were not included in the original laws — they had been getting licenses until being cut off — they were not covered by the separate ruling on behalf of dreamers.

That resulted in a new lawsuit by those affected, this one specifically against Ducey. And he hired his own attorneys — at state expense — to argue that these other deferred-action recipients are not entitled to a state license to drive.

Ducey has defended maintaining the lawsuit, even in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Arizona in the earlier case. But the governor has so far had no better luck than his predecessor in convincing the courts to deny the bid by these other deferred-action recipients for the right to drive legally.

Campbell, who is hearing that case, too, said there is evidence that the individuals who sued are being denied the same driving privileges that ADOT grants to others who have similar legal status. And he rejected claims by Douglas Northup, the attorney Ducey hired at state expense, that these people actually can get a license if they produce certain other evidence.

“Indeed, when asked during oral argument where a person could go to learn of this policy and how to comply with it, defense counsel was unaware of any place where it had been publicized,” the judge wrote.

Ducey now is seeking review by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Loop 303 opens a new gateway to the West Valley

I-10 traffic travels beneath of the new Loop 303 interchange in Goodyear in this view from the tallest ramp connecting the two freeways. ADOT opened the interchange ramps in late August. (ADOT photo)
I-10 traffic travels beneath of the new Loop 303 interchange in Goodyear in this view from the tallest ramp connecting the two freeways. (Photo courtesy of ADOT)

The days of driving through the congested freeways and streets of Phoenix are finally over for the people of Goodyear.

On October 8 last year, the Arizona Department of Transportation opened four new ramps, which allows drivers to make direct connections between Interstate 10 and Loop 303. These new connections are included in ADOT’s $64 million project focused on building and expanding the southern half of the interchange connecting the two freeways. Construction on the connections started on February 22, 2016.

The completed connections have allowed the commuters who live in Goodyear and nearby cities to bypass the congested traffic that surrounds the Phoenix metropolitan area, and commute to locations, such as Tempe and Mesa, in a reasonable amount of time.

However, saving time and limiting congestion are not the only things that the recent expansion has offered. Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord said the expansion of Loop 303 and the construction of the four new ramps have helped the city produce more jobs, create a bigger market and increase development of homes and businesses along the freeway.

She added that the expansion is helping keep people in the city of Goodyear. The mayor believes this is not just a short term improvement.

“As a gateway to our city, it will provide for the efficient flow of people, goods and services for decades to come,” Lord said back in October after the opening of the interchange.

Alan Maguire, an economist from the Maguire Company, compared the increase in development to the growth of the city of Scottsdale experienced when Loop 101 was built. He also believes this new expansion will draw more traffic toward Loop 303, and keep most of the freeways clear of congestion.

Companies along Loop 303, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Recreational Equipment, Inc., are primed for an increase in business and jobs as workers can now travel against rush-hour traffic from Phoenix.

The expansion may also welcome new manufacturing companies to Goodyear because of the new and easy access the highway offers to California and northern Arizona.

ADOT will continue to expand Loop 303 starting in the fall of 2019. That project will consist of extending Loop 303 south from Van Buren Street to Maricopa County Highway 85.

Funding for the interject project, which is part of the Maricopa Association of Governments’ Regional Transportation Plan that voters approved in 2004, comes from the countywide half-cent sales tax for transportation projects, as well as federal monies.

Planning for Arizona’s 280-mile section of I-11 rolls along


The Arizona Department of Transportation has reached a critical stage in planning the state’s first leg of an interstate highway expected to make transportation throughout Arizona and beyond more efficient, and provide opportunities for economic and social growth in developing communities.

Laura Douglas, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Transportation, said discussions continue on where the highway, Interstate 11, will be built.

“We are currently in the middle of a 280-mile study, which runs from Nogales all the way to Wickenburg, to see where to actually build,” Douglas said. “We are looking at a 2,000-foot wide amount of space for the project, even though you only need about 400 feet for a highway, because we want to make sure we take into account every possible alternative on where to build this project.”

The study of that 280-mile segment, which began in March 2016, focuses primarily on the environmental and social impact that I-11 could potentially have on surrounding areas. One of the biggest sources ADOT has used to gather more input and information for the project, though, is directly from the communities.

Beginning in May 2017, numerous meetings were held with community members, local tribes and agencies; a month-long comment period was also held to get a better sense of how the public would react to the construction of this highway. More than 600 members of communities attended public meetings, and about 2,300 comments were received.

“There will be more opportunities and meetings later this year for people to give their input,” Douglas said. “We really encourage everyone in the community to come and participate.”

Though the decision on where to build Arizona’s portion of I-11 is still up in the air, planners say there is no doubt about the kind of an impact a highway such as this would have on transportation in the state.

“Interstate 11 is part of the larger picture when we talk about planning for Arizona’s transportation future and enhancing our state’s key Commerce Corridor,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said in a December 15 press release. “As we look to invest and prioritize needs to improve our state highway system, we must consider how to better connect people, communities and markets. Efforts like this I-11 study begin with planning, and that includes the technical work and the equally important conversations we have with the public every day.”

Since the early 1990s, there had been discussions about creating a highway that would span through the Canada-Montana border and all the way down to the Arizona-Mexico border. Not only could it have the potential to create greater economic opportunities for all areas involved, but it could also ease traffic on the already existing highways. The conversation was left on the shelf, however, until an opportunity arose in 2012 to seriously delve into the idea.

When the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012, more than $105 billion was allocated to fund the construction of highways, roadways, and other transportation-related projects. With this legislation, Congress also recognized the need for a connecting interstate between Phoenix and Las Vegas since they are the two largest cities in the U.S. not yet directly connected by a major, limited-access highway. Therefore, Congress designated the corridor between the two cities as future Interstate-11 in the bill, which could eventually expand into the super highway many had been envisioning.

From there, ADOT and the Nevada Department of Transportation officially developed the plan for the highway with the two-year I-11 and Intermountain West Corridor Study, a comprehensive look into the effects and execution of this project and how it can possibly be extended to Mexico and Canada in the future. The plan outlined that the highway would run from Nogales, through Tucson, Phoenix, the Hoover Dam Bypass, Las Vegas, and all the way up through Reno. It will also utilize some of the existing highways such as U.S. Highway 93 and integrate them into I-11.

Phase one of construction in Nevada for the project broke ground in Boulder City on April 6, 2015. The 2.5 mile section, which runs from Railroad Pass to U.S. Highway 95, is set to be complete in April. A 12.5 mile section will then be added to that to connect it to U.S. 93. This portion of I-11 is expected to be complete and ready to use by October of this year.


Senate panel approves hike in drivers’ liability insurance coverage

Rebuffing claims it will harm some low-income individuals, a Senate panel agreed yesterday to increase the amount of liability insurance that motorists must purchase to drive on Arizona roads.

The 6-1 vote by members of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Technology came over the objections of Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, who said the more extensive coverage will increase costs.

Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)
Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)

“There are a lot of folks that live paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “There are people out there right now that are faced with either a permanent or probably a temporary situation, where they have to choose between paying the electric bill and paying their mandatory insurance.”

The result of S1075, Farnsworth said, would be that more people would simply choose to flout the legal requirement to have liability insurance. And that, he said, would mean more motorists on state roads with no insurance at all to compensate those they kill, injure or whose property they damage.

But Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said it is precisely those at the bottom of the income scale that her measure is designed to help. She said these are the people with the least amount of personal resources to call on when they are injured or their car is totaled by someone else who does not have sufficient insurance to cover the damages they have caused.

Wednesday’s vote in no way assures the measure will become law. Similar legislation was approved by the full Senate last year, only to be held up when Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, refused to give it a hearing in the House Banking and Insurance Committee, which he chairs.

Current law requires motorists to carry so-called 15/30/10 liability insurance: $15,000 to cover injuries to any one person in an accident, $30,000 for all injuries from the same mishap, and $10,000 for property damage, normally what happens to the other motorist’s vehicle.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix)
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix)

Brophy McGee said those limits were enacted in 1972. She said there was a presumption that they would be adjusted to keep pace with the cost of medical care and even the increasing price of vehicles.

That, however, has not happened, with the insurance industry in opposition amid concerns that the higher premiums will mean fewer people buying coverage.

Brophy McGee’s measure would boost the minimum to $25,000 for injuries to one person, $50,000 for all injuries, and $25,000 for property damage.

David Childers, who lobbies for the Property and Casualty Insurance Association of America, argued there’s no reason to believe the higher limits are necessary. He cited figures showing that the average liability claim for injuries is about $13,700. For property damage, Childers said the figure is in the $3,000 to $4,000 range.

But attorney Geoff Trachtenberg told lawmakers that figure is misleading.

He said it represents the amounts for which a claim was settled. And, by definition, if someone has only $15,000 worth of insurance, the claim will settle within those limits.

Brophy McGee said actual figures gathered by the Arizona Department of Transportation put the actual losses in a motor vehicle accident resulting in death in excess of $1.5 million. For other injuries, she said, the figure approaches $93,000.

And Brophy McGee said the typical property damage done exceeds $11,500 – all more than what motorists need to carry.

Trachtenberg acknowledged the cost of increasing liability coverage to the new limits should be in the range of about $91 a year for motorists who now buy the minimum coverage. But he said lawmakers should consider the trade-offs.

For example, he said, if at-fault motorists have more insurance, that will enable the health insurance companies of those they injure to recoup some of their costs from the at-fault motorist – or at least that person’s insurer. That includes the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which provides health coverage for those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $28,700 for a family of three.

And Trachtenberg said if people have more insurance, that should lower the premiums for underinsured motorist coverage. That is optional insurance that motorists can buy to protect themselves if they are in an accident with someone whose coverage does not cover their full medical costs.

The measure now goes to the full Senate.

Ugenti-Rita introduces bill to repeal vehicle fee

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)

Calling its enactment “sneaky,” a veteran lawmaker wants to repeal a new $32-a-vehicle fee on every car, truck, motorcycle and trailer that is being used to balance the state budget.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said it’s bad enough that her colleagues used an end-run around the Arizona Constitution to avoid having to get a two-thirds vote for the fee, designed to fund the state Highway Patrol.

But Ugenti-Rita said what added insult to injury is that lawmakers were told the fee would be in the $18-a-vehicle range, not 75 percent higher.

Any effort to repeal the fee — and the $185 million it raises from Arizona motorists — could get a fight from Gov. Doug Ducey who built his $10.4 billion budget on it while insisting it did not violate his promise never to increase taxes. Spokesman Patrick Ptak said the dollars are needed to free up cash for road construction and repair, “especially in rural areas of the state where resources are badly needed.”

“Any reforms to that fee should be responsible and keep these priorities in mind.”

It’s not just Ducey who is concerned. Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, the architect of the fee, also agrees there is a need for the additional dollars for road construction and maintenance.

But Campbell, like Ugenti-Rita, is irked that the fee is so much higher than he was told when he proposed it — and so much higher than he told his colleagues to get their votes.

Part of that is because the $32 fee is levied when a vehicle is registered. So anyone who has a multi-year registration — up to five years — is exempt until then.

And then the Highway Patrol budget ended up being larger than lawmakers were told.

Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)
Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)

Campbell wants to revamp the fee to make it fairer and lower it back to the original $18 promise.

But Ugenti-Rita said that misses the point that the fee was adopted through trickery to avoid having to get a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. And Ugenti-Rita said if the money is really needed — and the levy is popular enough — it can be done in a way she says is legal, with the necessary two-thirds vote.

And if it can’t get the margin?

“Is that a justification to be tricky and circumvent the will of the people?” she said.

That will of the people is a 1992 voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote for any new or increased tax or fee.

Unable to marshal that support, lawmakers instead empowered ADOT Director John Halikowski to compute the fee based on raising enough money to fund the Highway Patrol, with an extra 10 percent built in. And since it was Halikowski imposing the fee, the legislation to authorize him to do that required a simple majority vote.
Ugenti-Rita conceded that, strictly speaking, the maneuver is legal. The Arizona Supreme Court just last year upheld the legality of a similar mechanism to impose a fee on hospitals to pay for expansion of the state’s health care program for the poor.

That reasoning, however, left her unimpressed.

“If the government’s justification is ‘Just because I can, I will,’ that’s a bad one,” she said.

“I don’t think the public appreciates that,” Ugenti-Rita said. “Just because you found a sneaky way around it is not a good enough justification.”

The reason for the Highway Patrol fee is even more complicated.

Another constitutional provision says that any dollars raised from the use of Arizona roads, mainly gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, can be spent solely for those roads. But in prior efforts to balance the budget, lawmakers and governors have siphoned off those dollars to pay for at least part of the Highway Patrol based on the argument that the agency promotes highway safety.

What that did, however, is left fewer dollars for needed road construction and repair.

The road repair financial problem is complicated by the fact that the state’s 18-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax has not been raised since 1991. And while there are more vehicles on the road, they are more fuel efficient, meaning motorists are buying fewer gallons of gas for every mile they travel.

Campbell figured that a separate fee to pay for Highway Patrol would free up those gasoline taxes for what he said is the intended purpose.

The fee was approved by a 35-24 margin in the House and 17-13 in the Senate, margins enough to authorize Halikowski to compute and impose a fee, but not enough for lawmakers to set the fee themselves.

Even at the time foes decried the plan.

Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, called it “the worst kind of tax increase” because it was being done without any idea of the price tag on motorists.

“We’re going to tell an unelected bureaucratto go ahead and raise these fees to whatever he wants to,” he complained.

Ptak also insisted that the forcing motorists to pay an additional $32 for each vehicle does not violate Ducey’s pledge not to hike taxes, saying that it technically is a “fee.” But he declined to say whether the governor believes  the levy — whatever it is called — is fair or whether Ducey would veto any outright repeal if it reaches his desk.