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$2.5B headed to tribes for long-standing water settlements

Boats move along Lake Powell along the Upper Colorado River Basin Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Wahweap, Ariz. Included in the infrastructure deal that became law last month is $2.5 billion for Native American water rights settlements, which quantify individual tribes’ claims to water and identify infrastructure projects to help deliver it to residents. On the Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in the U.S., the money could fund a settlement reached in 2020 over water in the upper Colorado River basin. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

For over a decade, residents of the rural Fort Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona have been promised miles of pipeline that would bring clean drinking water to their communities. 

Now, a one-time windfall to help carry out the agreement could be on its way. 

The federal infrastructure bill signed last month includes $2.5 billion for Native American water rights settlements, a tool tribes have used to define their rights to water from rivers and other sources and get federal funding to deliver it to residents. 

The federal government has not disclosed how the money will be divvied up. But tribes involved in more than 30 settlements — many in the U.S. West, including the White Mountain Apache of the Fort Apache Reservation — are eligible and eagerly awaiting specifics. 

“These are longstanding lapses in the building out of infrastructure … to make sure that people in Indian Country are not left behind,” said Heather Whiteman Runs Him, who is from the Crow Nation of Montana and directs the University of Arizona’s Tribal Justice Clinic. 

Access to reliable, clean water and basic sanitation facilities on tribal lands remains a challenge for hundreds of thousands of people. The funding for settlements is part of about $11 billion from the infrastructure law headed to Indian Country to expand broadband coverage, fix roads and provide basic needs like running water. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1908 that tribes have rights to as much water as they need to establish a permanent homeland, and those rights stretch back at least as long as any given reservation has existed. As a result, tribal water rights often are more senior to others in the West, where competition over the scarce resource is often fierce. 

Litigation can be expensive and drawn-out, which is why many tribes have turned to settlements. The negotiations generally involve tribes, states, cities, private water users, local water districts and others and can take years if not decades to hash out. 

“What makes them a complicated and often very slow-moving process is there are huge potential ramifications for how a tribal water right gets quantified and developed,” said Richard “Jim” Palmer, the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s attorney general from 2010 to 2018. 

Low water levels at Wahweap Bay at Lake Powell along the Upper Colorado River Basin are shown Wednesday, June 9, 2021, at the Utah and Arizona border at Wahweap, Ariz. Included in the infrastructure deal that became law last month is $2.5 billion for Native American water rights settlements, which quantify individual tribes’ claims to water and identify infrastructure projects to help deliver it to residents. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Nearly 40 water rights settlements have been reached with tribes, some of which include more than one tribe. The Interior Department said 31 of the settlements are eligible for funds from the infrastructure bill. 

“This money will really help us to fulfill our end of the deal,” said Elizabeth Klein, senior counselor to the Interior secretary. 

Congress approved the White Mountain Apache settlement in 2010. The tribe received more than one-third of the water it claimed it was entitled to from two rivers that flow on the mountainous reservation in exchange for the promise of federal money to deliver the water to tribal communities. 

The tribe has said it needs federal funding for water storage, surface water treatment facilities and miles of pipeline so residents can have a reliable and clean source of drinking water. 

The projects stalled, however, because of cost overruns and technical issues that took years to resolve and even more negotiations to secure additional funding, Palmer said. He added that’s typical of many tribal water rights settlements. 

“It’s a situation of having a lot of money on paper but it being very, very difficult to access and implement … without a staggering amount of red tape getting in the way,” said Palmer, who is White Mountain Apache. 

As a result, residents of the reservation still rely on over-pumped wells or consume water that’s potentially contaminated with heavy metals, Palmer said. 

Congress’ piecemeal approach to funding tribal water rights settlements is what makes the $2.5 billion in the infrastructure deal important, said Jay Weiner, an attorney and Native American water law expert. 

“It kind of clears the decks on these annual funding cycles so you have less competition for … limited dollars,” he said. 

The Navajo Nation — the largest Native American reservation in the U.S. — said it expects to receive funding from the infrastructure law for a 2020 settlement it reached with Utah for water in the upper Colorado River basin. 

Congress authorized $210 million for water delivery infrastructure and agricultural conservation projects to help bring running water to the Utah side of the reservation, but lawmakers did not provide full funding. 

Meanwhile, residents and public health experts are concerned about groundwater contamination from uranium and arsenic. On the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation, the tribe has said hundreds of households — or roughly 40% of the residents — lack running water or proper sanitation facilities. 

The 27,000-square-mile reservation is larger than West Virginia and also stretches into Arizona and New Mexico. Homes are scattered on the landscape, adding to the difficulties in transporting water. 

Tribes say the faster they get the funding, the sooner they can start long-anticipated projects to make use of water deemed theirs on paper. 

“Ultimately, it really is about allowing and facilitating tribes to be able to put their water to use, which is the point of the whole exercise,” Weiner said. 

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Fonseca reported from Flagstaff, Arizona. 

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The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/environment 

 

Agencies make case for new spending, but most requests likely doomed

Ask most state agencies, and they’ll say they need more money. Their lists of wants and needs range from small-dollar requests to eight-digit figures for major initiatives.

And one theme carries through most years – much of what the agencies beg the Governor’s Office for doesn’t ultimately get funded.

Every fall, the agencies send budget requests to the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, the branch of the Governor’s Office tasked with overseeing the state budget. Some of the requests may end up in the executive budget Gov. Doug Ducey rolls out in January, which then gets negotiated with the Legislature.

Many of the agencies hit on common ongoing needs. Lots of agencies ask for money for massive informational technology projects, most of which don’t get funded. For agencies that provide social services, there’s always “caseload growth,” or costs that need to be covered to maintain a program as it is. And then there are operational costs, like wages and benefits for employees.

Will Humble
Will Humble

Will Humble, the former agency head of the Department of Health Services under two governors, crafted budget requests based on what a governor was interested in, seeking money for things that aligned with the governor’s priorities.

“Part of being an agency director is being a mind-reader,” Humble said.

Humble didn’t want to put in requests that would raise eyebrows, but ones that stood a chance of actually getting the green light. Essentially, each agency is competing against the others, so it’s important to put the strongest, most-likely-to-succeed arguments up front, he said.

“I never looked at it as my wish list. I looked at it as my ‘what is it that I can sell’ list. I wished for a lot more,” he said.

Requests for money from the general fund, the state’s all-purpose kitty, are tougher to justify than those that come from other sources, like taxes, grants, fees or federal programs. Some agencies are largely self-funded, requiring no money from the general fund, while others rely heavily on general fund appropriations.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said the governor is looking for good policies that will improve services for citizens while keeping a balanced budget.

“And also certainly we’re looking for savings. We‘re looking for where can we save money, not just spend money,” he said.

Plus, he noted, the governor has priorities outside the budget requests, like putting more money into K-12 education. Things like a request from the Department of Corrections for reducing recidivism – which Scarpinato said is an investment financially and personally – will be looked at seriously and prioritized by Ducey.

“The fact is that there are limited resources and money doesn’t grow on trees,” Scarpinato said. “We really need to prioritize K-12 education and our teachers, and that means that the rest of state government has to figure out how to deliver essential services and improve services by saving money.”

ag-budget-webHelp us attack the cities

Attorney General Mark Brnovich wants nearly $1 million to pay for eight staffers in a newly established unit of his office aimed at government accountability and investigations of cities.

A law passed in the 2015 legislative session also tasked the office with investigating complaints from lawmakers about cities or towns that they claim aren’t following state laws. The AG wants more money to investigate these complaints, which could result in the state withholding revenues from cities and towns. The government accountability and special litigation unit, created to handle the lawmaker complaints, also focuses on election law complaints from citizens, open meetings law violations and misuse of public funds.

So far, the attorney general has investigated three complaints under the new law, two of which were resolved locally and one of which prevailed at the Arizona Supreme Court.

Because of the successful court case, the AG “anticipates several new complaints to be filed by legislators in the near future.”

Now, attorneys for the government accountability unit are funded through money brought in by enforcing the Consumer Fraud Act. But the AG’s office said the funding isn’t sustainable, and it takes time and money away from consumer protection duties.

“This workload places the (Attorney General’s Office) in the difficult position of choosing whether to neglect critical consumer protection enforcement in favor of lawmaker initiated S.B. 1487 investigations,” the budget request says.

AG spokeswoman Mia Garcia said the new law requires attorneys to work within strict time deadlines to investigate complaints against cities and towns, which requires resources.

“We weren’t given any special funding, despite the new mandate. The way this unit is funded now isn’t sustainable, and we need a permanent funding source,” Garcia said.

adoa-budget-webObserving World War I

Next November will be the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and the Arizona Department of Administration wants to spruce up its monuments in anticipation.

The department expects an influx of visitors on November 11, 2018, and wants to use $25,250 to maintain and repair the monuments and mechanical equipment located at Wesley Bolin Plaza.

The money wouldn’t come from the state’s general fund, but a separate fund with more than $200,000 available that’s meant to go toward repairing monuments and memorials.

ADOA also has applied for a grant to restore the World War I memorial through an initiative sponsored by the World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. If it doesn’t get awarded a grant, the department said it will first use the $25,250 appropriation to restore the World War I memorial. The department said it’s also actively trying to get donations from groups that support the various monuments on the plaza.

“If the funds are not appropriated this fiscal year, ADOA will miss the opportunity to repair and restore monuments in observance of the World War I Centennial,” ADOA’s budget request says. “In addition, there will be further degradation of the monuments and memorials.”

dcs-budget-webThink of the children

In order to help kids get adopted, the Department of Child Safety seeks $21 million from the general fund to cover the growth in its adoption subsidy program.

The subsidy largely provides ongoing money to help families cover expenses if they adopt children with special needs, DCS said in its budget request.

Families can get a one-time payment of up to $2,000 to help cover the costs of the adoption process, like court fees, attorneys, fingerprints and home studies. But for some families that adopt special needs kids, there’s an ongoing “maintenance subsidy,” averaging $700 per month, to help pay for some of the child’s costs, based on the family’s needs.

The money can be used by families to cover child care, insurance and educational needs, the department said in its request, but it’s not intended to cover all the daily living expenses of the child.

The number of adoptions has increased in the past few years, and the department expects there will be 14 percent more adoptions next fiscal year than this year, from 29,420 on average in this fiscal year to 33,539 next year. The numbers of adoptions spike in November, dubbed “adoption promotion month,” and more children get off the adoption subsidies in the summer, when many new adults graduate from high school.

If the department doesn’t get the funding needed to keep up with growth, it will have to drop the amount it pays in new adoption contracts, which would be a “financial disincentive to adopt versus keeping a child in foster care,” the budget request says.

“New adoptions may be stalled by a reduced ability to finalize new contracts, with increased time in out-of-home care leading to relatively higher costs to the State overall and reduced outcomes for children,” the budget request says.

adot-budget-webWhen will we think of the roads?

Ask any rural lawmaker: Do the roads throughout the state need help? During the 2017 legislative session, funds for highways became a battle-cry for lawmakers after the Governor’s Office didn’t include any money for roads in his proposed budget.

The Department of Transportation wants $25.6 million to help address crumbling highways throughout the state.

Typically, ADOT has used about $15 million each year on sealing deteriorated roads, said agency spokesman Steve Elliott. The $25.6 million request would be added to the $15 million, he said.

But that’s only a fraction of what the department estimates it needs to repair cracks, seal roadways and smooth out rough patches. The total need is more than $128 million, something ADOT recognized wasn’t doable because of the lack of state dollars and the difficulty of administering all the money at one time.

If money isn’t spent now to address road issues, the investment taxpayers put into roadways will deteriorate faster and negatively affect travel for both business and pleasure, the department wrote in its request.

And if the state doesn’t pony up more money for roads, the department won’t be able to preserve and extend the life expectancy of its highway system.

“These essential duties, if not properly funded, will result in more rapid deterioration of our pavement leading to more expensive reconstruction in the long run and more expense to the taxpayer,” the department wrote.

liquor-budget-webYou booze, you lose

Other requests are relatively small, but could have a big impact on an agency’s ability to do its job. Take the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control – the agency wants $35,000 to help with litigation costs and $102,000 for a full-time assistant attorney general.

Since the liquor department doesn’t have enough money now to fund litigation costs, it has to drop the amount it collects for fines in the hopes people won’t appeal them, the agency’s request says.

Now, if people with liquor licenses violate liquor laws, they get their fines reduced by half if they don’t contest the findings or judgments in legal hearings, the agency wrote.

“While there is no real way to measure direct impacts, a concern is that increased efforts to avoid contested cases could be jeopardizing public safety as well as adversely impacting services,” the agency wrote.

The agency currently has an assistant attorney general who spends one-third of their time on liquor department issues, but it wants a full-time person to focus on legal support and navigate complex liquor laws.

Without a full-time assistant AG, the department has missed opportunities to pursue more complex investigations related to racketeering, the agency wrote.

ade-budget-webWe don’t really want these epi-pens

The Department of Education is seeking $1.65 million to purchase injectable epinephrine for state schools, but its own officials deemed the request “unnecessary.”

The funds would be used to purchase two doses of adult and two doses of pediatric epinephrine for each of about 2,000 district and charter schools.

A 2013 law requires the department to make this exact request each year and to train selected staff to administer the potentially life-saving drug to someone experiencing a severe allergic reaction.

But the department would like an end to that mandate.

Epinephrine auto-injectors are sold in packages of two for a generic wholesale price between $300 and $400, or $800 per school. That leaves the remaining $50,000 for the same staff training each year.

But if the Legislature opts not to provide the funding, adding to the epinephrine stockpile is optional anyway.

“Schools are currently able to pursue other avenues to receive free or reduced pricing to stock epinephrine auto- injectors for emergency purposes,” the department wrote, “so the department believes this mandated budget request is unnecessary.”

In other words: We’re all set, thanks.

sfb-budget-webSave our crumbling school facilities

As school facilities age and degrade, emergency solutions have cost the state thousands of dollars at a time, according to the School Facilities Board.

Now, the board would like the authority and resources to predict failures and prioritize repairs.

Take the chiller (a cooling system) failure at Lake Havasu High School for example.

The board wrote the school’s two chillers failed, leaving the school without any relief from the heat. For months, the chillers had not been performing as expected, but nothing was done to preempt the inevitable.

The school had to be cooled, the board wrote. The replacement process took months despite being accelerated, and in the meantime, funding was provided to rent two trailer-mounted temporary chillers at a total cost of $325,000.

If the chillers had been replaced ahead of their failure one at a time, the rental would have been unnecessary.

In addition to the authority to predict such failures, the board is seeking expenditure authority from the Building
Grant fund to inspect school buildings every five years, to implement a tool prioritizing repairs and to partner with a third-party to gather information about the facilities and add it to that database, dubbed the Facility Condition Index.

“The information would roll up to a ‘dashboard’ giving the SFB an indication of a building system’s condition,” the board wrote. “The timing of repairs and replacements of those systems would be prioritized and managed to reduce avoidable costs and minimize disruption to students.”

Each school district would have its own dashboard to track scheduled maintenance, the board went on. Projects could be scheduled in advance and completed during breaks, and multiple purchases could be made at once to take advantage of bulk pricing.

The board included a draft for the proposed partnership, including anticipated costs well over $1 million,
though the board anticipates that cost would still pale in comparison to excess emergency costs.

America’s Renewable Energy Future Limited by Onerous Regulations

President Donald Trump listens as Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks on proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump listens as Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks on proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

In recent years, a number of states and the federal government have been working to increase the amount of renewable energy in America’s power grid. Unfortunately, progress has been slow. For example, when it comes to harnessing offshore wind power, only a single project off Rhode Island has been installed to date in U.S. coastal waters.

Why the delays? In large part the answer is a lot of unnecessary governmental red tape. Although U.S. states have sanctioned nearly 17,000 megawatts of offshore wind power – something that states and environmentalists both want – the bureaucratic obstacles involved have proven prohibitive. To locate and install these types of projects can require approvals from as many as 20 different federal, state, and local agencies—and the process can take years.

Tom Madison
Tom Madison

This same brand of inefficiency has also created major hurdles for the development of new roads, bridges, pipelines, electric transmission lines, and other critical infrastructure. However, these hurdles may start to fall, now that the Trump administration has proposed improvements to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

For years, NEPA regulations have slowed the development of crucial infrastructure projects throughout the nation. For example, NEPA reviews often take up to seven years to approve a single federal highway project. In revising NEPA, the administration hopes to establish more reasonable timeframes for the completion of environmental impact statements. Such streamlining, along with improved information sharing, could help the nation launch new energy and infrastructure efforts. Improving NEPA could also help to revitalize the nation’s essential hardrock mineral industry.

A more fair and efficient regulatory approval process for America’s mining industry matters greatly for both the nation’s energy independence and vital infrastructure assets. Wind and solar installations—along with new bridges and roadways—all require vast amounts of the minerals and metals that come from U.S. mines. Minerals like neodymium, molybdenum, iron, copper, lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and others are essential to the success of emerging renewable energy technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, and electric vehicles. And these new technologies will require even more minerals and metals than the systems they replace.

Unfortunately, it now takes seven years, and often longer, to secure the necessary permits for a new mine in the United States. In contrast, Canada and Australia maintain comparably stringent environmental standards but still process mining permits in just two to three years.

The United States possesses an estimated $6.2 trillion worth of mineral reserves. But due to our broken permitting process, America continues to source urgently needed materials for energy, transportation, and other infrastructure projects from nations with environmental standards much less strict than our own. It’s well past time to improve our environmental review requirements, both to reinvigorate domestic mining and to modernize our failing infrastructure. But that can’t happen until Washington streamlines antiquated bureaucracies and starts slashing red tape.

Thomas J. Madison Jr. is an infrastructure consultant who has previously served as Administrator of the U.S. Federal Highway Administration.

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.”

 

 

 

Arizona lawmakers split as House OKs $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill

House members worked into the early morning Saturday to pass the Biden administration’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and move forward on a separate $1.85 trillion social spending package that Democratic leaders hope to deliver before Thanksgiving. (Photo courtesy Architect of the Capitol)

Arizona lawmakers split on party lines late Friday night as the House voted 228-206 to pass a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, giving final passage to a centerpiece of the Biden administration’s agenda. 

All four Arizona Republicans voted against and all five Arizona Democrats voted for the bill, which has already passed the Senate and now goes to the president for his signature. 

“For far too long, Congress has agreed that infrastructure is an American priority but has let political gridlock get in the way of concrete action,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, in a statement after the vote. “I was proud to vote to pass this much-needed package today.” 

But it was political gridlock that prevented House Democrats from pushing through another key part of the White House’s plan, the $1.85 trillion Build Back Better bill that would fund everything from child care to housing to climate change efforts. 

Instead, the House cast a 221-213 procedural vote, strictly along party lines, that keeps the bill alive for a final vote when lawmakers return from their Veterans’ Day recess. 

The votes followed a full day of wrangling between moderate and progressive House Democrats, with the moderates demanding to see a Congressional Budget Office “score” on the actual costs of the bill before committing to vote. 

“We had hoped to bring both bills to the floor today,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday, before announcing the plan to keep Build Back Better alive while negotiations continue. “Some members want more clarification or validation of numbers that have been put forth, its top line that it is fully paid for, and we honor that request.” 

The two bills had been linked, with progressive Democrats refusing to vote for the infrastructure bill until they were assured of getting what they wanted in the Build Back Better plan, which was cut from the original $3.5 trillion after Senate moderates – including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona – objected to its size. 

Despite the delays, House leaders said they hope to be able to pass the bill and send it to the Senate for final approval before Thanksgiving. 

Pelosi said Friday that while negotiations on the larger bill continued, it was important to pass the infrastructure bill so that the jobs it is expected to create “can come online as soon as possible.” 

“We have waited a while, we had hoped to pass it sooner, but we can’t wait too much later for the legislation,” she said. 

The vote on the infrastructure bill came shortly before midnight on a day that began at 8 a.m. for the House. The procedural vote on the Build Back Better plan came at 12:37 a.m. Saturday. But supporters said it was important to move forward, particularly on the infrastructure bill. 

“President Biden and this Democratic majority were elected to bring real, tangible change that could be felt in all corners of the country,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, in a statement. “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act does that by providing critical funds to rebuild Arizona’s roads, bridges, and public transit and expanding access to reliable broadband and clean water for all communities.” 

Republican critics said the bill is too costly and loaded with projects that have little to do with actual infrastructure but merely push a liberal agenda. 

“While our nation is in need of infrastructure improvements to our roads, bridges, highways, railways, power, and water systems, this bill simply missed the mark,” said a statement from Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria. “The spending in this bill is not paid for and will add to our national debt, plus only a low percentage of the bill is actually spent on real infrastructure needs.” 

Ultimately, six Democratic progressives crossed the aisle to vote against the infrastructure bill and 13 Republicans voted for it. 

The White House said the infrastructure bill, also known as the American Jobs Plan, would go toward repairing bridges and roads, modernizing public transit, extending broadband, ensuring clean and safe drinking water and more. 

In Arizona, it said, the bill would help repair 132 bridges and 3,100 miles of highway that are in poor condition, address an estimated $9.1 billion in needed water infrastructure projects and improve broadband access for the 14% of Arizonans who have none and the 45% who live in an area with just one provider, among other goals. 

But the bill also includes items that are not traditionally thought of as infrastructure. It calls for funding for home care for the elderly and disabled, for more home weatherization for low-income homeowners and for an increase in child care facilities in the state, where 48% of residents live in a “childcare desert.” 

The more-ambitious 10-year, $1.85 trillion Build Back Better plan would cover everything from child care to Medicare, and reduce taxes for workers and families, according to an administration fact sheet. 

The White House said that in Arizona the plan would provide access to child care for 457,864 young children per year and expand access to free preschool to more than 139,000 additional 3- and 4-year-olds per year. It would also expand Medicaid coverage to 158,000 uninsured people and save hundreds of dollars in health care annually for more than 107,000 Arizonans. 

The spending plan also aims to expand rental assistance for Arizona renters and increase housing supply by 1 million affordable housing units nationwide. 

Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, insist that the plan will pay for itself, through higher taxes on corporations and the highest-wage earners. 

Debate on the cost of the bill has taken place over the past several months, and that continued Friday, with Gallego tweeting that the package “creates jobs, grows the economy invests in children, families and climate action and is paid for.” 

But Lesko said the “huge tax-and-spend bill” will drive up inflation and “every single American will pay for it.” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, went further, calling it a “far left … Socialist spending plan.” 

The current $1.85 trillion Build Back Better plan is a scaled-back version of the originally proposed 10-year, $3.5 trillion budget. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said Democratic progressives had been called on “to compromise and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” and had done so. He called on party moderates “to practice what they preach and vote to Build Back Better.” 

If the plan can pass the House when it comes back after recess, it must still go to the Senate. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, said Friday’s vote on the infrastructure bill was “a big step forward – an important one – but our work is only half done.” 

“We must continue our work to pass a meaningful reconciliation bill that will strengthen America’s middle class and lower everyday costs that burden families without adding to our national debt,” Stanton said in a statement after Friday’s votes. 

 

Biden’s infrastructure goals a power grab

highway-road-money-web

To call President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan an infrastructure bill requires a very generous definition of the term. Or as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand apparently thinks, anything can be infrastructure. Of the $2.25 trillion allocated in this bill, only 6% goes toward what most Americans consider infrastructure. Instead of filling potholes, Biden’s bill is loaded to the brim with expansions of federal power, erosion of states’ rights, questionable economic policies and failed federal mandates. 

Alex Diaz
Alex Diaz

There are aspects of this bill that ought to be lauded. The $174 billion allocated toward building out America’s electric vehicle charging stations is praiseworthy, given the rapid development of such vehicles. But there are far more parts of this bill that certainly do not fall into any realistic definition of infrastructure. 

For example, Biden’s bill includes the PRO Act, which is designed to destroy Right to Work laws in 27 states, including Arizona, and kill millions of freelance jobs by forcing all freelancers to pay union dues to keep their job. It’s worth noting that unionization was recently rejected by Amazon employees in Alabama. This bill also seeks to force every building in America to meet onerous green standards that would raise the cost of housing around the country, at a time when demand for affordable housing keeps growing. 

The Democrats want to spend hundreds of billions for high speed rail that would be significantly slower than a cheap plane flight, one-size-fits-all federal mandates related to the Green New Deal, and billions more for expansions of the government’s role in child and elderly care. The biggest offender is the goal to increase the U.S. corporate tax rate to 28%, a figure that is projected to kill another million jobs. All of these job killing actions are being proposed at a time where employers are struggling to fill 7.4 million open positions, and the U.S. recovery from the Covid pandemic is slowing. 

And how are we going to pay for all this? Short answer: we won’t. The Biden team hopes to raise taxes by a whopping $2.1 trillion, along with increasing our debt by hundreds of billions more. 

This bill isn’t just an “infrastructure” plan, it’s a federal power grab that would fundamentally change the relationship between states and the federal government in America. By creating giant slush funds controlled by the White House, it would practically destroy the vital role that state, county and local governments play in funding and deploying infrastructure projects. 

Lost among all this spending is the real reason why new infrastructure ends up coming in horribly over budget, or isn’t built at all: America’s obtuse regulations around construction and federal hiring requirements. Required environmental studies are used to stop construction, especially projects such as affordable housing, dead in its tracks rather than actually protecting the environment. In addition, federal requirements that certain fields utilize only union labor greatly increase the price of projects. These government regulations inhibit the free market’s ability to cheaply update and modernize America’s infrastructure, and make every change, or new project, a big political fight. The free market is ready to get to work, but, as is usually the case in America, the government is the thing that stands in the way.  

Real infrastructure doesn’t take years to build. As many European governments (and more recently China, much to our detriment) have demonstrated, infrastructure can be built in months, weeks or even days. In America, new infrastructure must navigate through a maze of government agencies, jump through a labyrinth of permitting and red tape, and spend millions on costly, bureaucracy satisfying environmental studies. Going forward, we must focus on consolidating the permitting process and cutting red tape. 

Rather than trying to change the definition of infrastructure, Biden should just get the government out of the way. 

 Alexander Diaz grew up in Tucson and is a sophomore at the Catholic University of America, where he is president of the university’s branch of the American Conservation Coalition. 

Ducey’s proposed infrastructure upgrades road to bipartisanship

A UPS truck passes a digital sign on I-10. Gov. Doug Ducey proposed in his January 13 State of the State Address to earmark funds for a six-lane bridge on I-10 over the Gila River between Phoenix and Tucson. PHOTO COURTESY ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
A UPS truck passes a digital sign on I-10. Gov. Doug Ducey proposed in his January 13 State of the State Address to earmark funds for a six-lane bridge on I-10 over the Gila River between Phoenix and Tucson. PHOTO COURTESY ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Spending part of a one-time windfall to build new roads and bridges was a rare idea in Gov. Doug Ducey’s January 13 State of the State Address that won plaudits from both liberal and conservative lawmakers.

Ducey pledged funding for a six-lane bridge over the Gila River on Interstate 10. A day later, the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee endorsed nearly a dozen bills to provide funding for bridges. And both legislative Republicans and Democrats discussed spending more for roads and bridges while laying out their priorities for the fiscal 2021 budget.

Lawmakers expect to have about $170 million available for ongoing funding and about $475 million for one-time spending, thanks in part to higher-than-expected revenue from sales taxes paid by out-of-state online retailers because of law changes this year.

“All of the members, Republicans and Democrats, on both sides of the aisle are in favor of infrastructure investments,” Senate President Karen Fann said.

Ducey said his budget proposal, which was due for release on January 17, will include funding for a six-lane bridge over the Gila River, as part of an ongoing push to widen I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson. The highway shrinks to two lanes in either direction for about 23 miles between Chandler and Casa Grande.

“Our budget puts the pedal to the metal, with the construction of a new six-lane bridge over the Gila River,” Ducey said during his speech. “This replaces a 56-year-old bridge. Sixty-two thousand people drive over it every day. That’s 23 million a year. So let’s break ground ASAP.”

Ducey also requested federal funding to build a bridge over Tonto Creek, where three children died in late November after their family drove past signs warning them not to cross. Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, and Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, previously introduced bills requesting state funding for the bridge.

Allen’s bill, which would appropriate $15 million, is scheduled for a hearing January 21 in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Cook’s, which would appropriate $20 million, is not yet scheduled.

The Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee, meanwhile, has already endorsed spending about $46 million to replace or repair 10 other rural bridges, and an additional $11 million to study widening State Route 101 between I-10 and U.S. 60 in the West Valley and improving the interchange of the North Loop 101 and I-10.

Committee chairman David Livingston, R-Peoria, said he was deluged with phone calls from other cities and counties after the Legislature approved a $2.81 million appropriation to repair or replace Jesse Hayes Road bridge over Pinal Creek in Globe last year.

Because of those pleas, Livingston asked the state Transportation Department to send him a list of its most critical bridges in rural counties that don’t have funding. The sum comes to about $46 million.

House and Senate Democrats, in their own presentation prior to the State of the State Address, called for spending on county roads and bridges and airports, and replacing highway funds that have regularly been swept to other needs.

Overall, Fann said lawmakers should approach this year thinking of budgeting for infrastructure in the same way they think of budgeting for their own homes. In a good year, with money left over, they can get ahead on fixing a roof or doing other maintenance.

“I hate it when people say we have extra money; we have a surplus. We have a great, great economy right now,” she said.

Future hinges on new energy infrastructure

Daniel Baldonado, a contract worker for a steel fabrication company, Ironco Enterprises, installs a series of solar panels on the roof of Wells Fargo Arena on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus in 2011. (Photo by Brandon Quester/Cronkite News)

The U.S. energy market is changing more rapidly and dramatically than anyone would have predicted. A steep decline in the price of solar-generated electricity, combined with the rising cost of coal and gas-fired electricity, has turned energy economics on its head. This is particularly true here in the Southwest. 

For example, solar+storage projects being built today are selling electricity below $25 per megawatt hour (MWh), and guaranteeing that price for the next two decades. By contrast, the price of natural gas-generated electricity is roughly double that and projected to get more expensive over time. Coal generation today is even more costly. 

David Jenkins

This can be a true game-changer here in Arizona, a state blessed with the some of the strongest solar rays in the nation. That means this state has virtually limitless potential to take advantage of these new market realities 

Replacing aging coal and gas plants as they are retired with much cheaper solar+storage will not only save Arizonan’s money in lower electric bills, it will also spur economic growth. Cheaper electricity attracts companies from out of state and fuels business expansion. 

The only real question mark is the speed of that transition here in Arizona. Will it be slow and sporadic, beset by inadequate infrastructure and regulatory uncertainty, or will it—along with those associated economic benefits—speed along quickly with the necessary level of planning and investment? 

As a fiscal conservative, I worry a great deal about the massive spending binge our nation has been on over the past few years. Too often, we seem to spend money on everything but the things we need most. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our neglect of infrastructure. 

Despite all of that federal spending, we have not even kept up with the repair and maintenance needs of essential assets like bridges, roads, sewage treatment plants, and dams. Digging ourselves out of that backlog will take time. 

With energy infrastructure, we simply do not have the luxury of time. 

The choice is to either keep up with a rapidly changing energy market that promises to reduce energy costs and boost our economy, or fail to do so and be stuck relying on aging natural gas and coal-fired generation that becomes more costly by the day. 

Does anyone really want to pay between $60 and $100 per MWh for electricity generated by old gas and coal plants, when we can pay less than $25 per MWh for electricity from solar? Companies looking for the best place to build or relocate certainly do not. 

This new energy market offers incredible opportunity, but maximizing that opportunity requires additional transmission and distribution infrastructure, smart grid technology, robust security and resilience measures, and policies that foster more U.S. production of key components. 

Our energy landscape is also changing rapidly in the transportation sector. Virtually every semi-truck manufacturer is rolling out all electric trucks. Companies like Walmart, Anheuser Busch, and UPS have already placed orders. UPS has also ordered more than 10,000 delivery vans. Amazon has ordered ten times that, deploying 100,000 over the next decade. 

On top of that, General Motors announced plans to produce only electric passenger cars and trucks by 2035. 

This electrification of our transportation sector also requires additional energy infrastructure. Most importantly, a comprehensive nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations and deployment of ultra-fast charging capability (10-12 minutes). 

Building that EV charging network today will be the biggest boon to the transportation of goods across the U.S. since President Dwight D. Eisenhower developed our nation’s interstate highway system. 

Valid concerns about spending should not derail the smart energy investments contained in the pending infrastructure bills before Congress, as those will pay for themselves many times over in future economic development. 

Nowhere is this more critical than solar-rich Arizona, a state that stands to benefit disproportionally from federal investments in this new energy market. 

Should we fail to make these necessary investments today, much of this great new economic opportunity will be lost — crumbling away far faster than the most neglected bridge or highway. 

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national organization with more than 800 members in Arizona. 

 

Health care industry is critical infrastructure

 

Arizona continues to be a top destination for many families fleeing expensive cities and states across the nation in search of a better quality of life. A cornerstone of any thriving community is a well-resourced health care delivery system.

For the past two years, Arizona’s health care industry has focused on managing the Covid pandemic and protecting the structural integrity of our state’s health care delivery system. The most important aspect in delivering widespread quality health care is a stable workforce.

Brittney Kaufmann

This is a critical time for Arizona. It is important that we continue to meet the dynamic needs of a growing population by having the necessary skilled health care workforce, and right now we are facing the daunting reality of a significant shortage.

Arizona currently ranks in the top five states for the greatest shortage of nurses, an issue that predates Covid, but has been exacerbated by the pandemic due to a combination of employee burnout, many nurses retiring, and a lack of trained nurses to replace those leaving the workplace. According to McKinsey & Company, 32% of Registered Nurses (RNs) surveyed in the United States in November 2021 said they may leave their current direct-patient-care role—an increase in 10 percentage points in under 10 months. This shortage impacts health care across the entire state – rural an urban.

The current trajectory is unsustainable from a public health perspective and economically for the state. That is why we are urging state leaders to support HB 2691 – legislation that would create short-term and long-term mechanisms to ensure a sustainable industry pipeline and greatly increase the production and retention of nurses.

Danny Seiden

High-quality health care is critical to the quality of life and financial health of Arizona employers, employees, and citizens. We cannot meet our state’s current health care needs and meet the needs of rapid population growth if we don’t invest in creating more health care workers.

In addition to providing the necessary health care for Arizona communities, the health care industry strengthens economic development opportunities, attracts, and expands business development, and creates hundreds of thousands of local jobs. According to Arizona’s Office of Economic Opportunity, the healthcare and social assistance sector currently represents approximately 13.7% of the state’s workforce and is the leading sector of future job growth over the next decade. This economic activity is important for both urban areas and particularly for rural communities where this high-wage industry is responsible for a large percentage of a local area’s economy.

We must do everything we can to create a statewide workforce program that addresses health professional shortages to meet the state’s health care needs and continues to provide high-wage and quality jobs for Arizonans. HB 2691 can be a part of the solution.

Brittney Kaufmann is the CEO of the Health System Alliance of Arizona and Danny Seiden is the President and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Infrastructure bill gives Sinema bipartisan victory

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., center, joined from left by, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speak to reporters just after a vote to start work on a nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., center, joined from left by, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speak to reporters just after a vote to start work on a nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has faced unrelenting tension with activists in her party over her insistence that bipartisan deal-making is still the way to do big things during a hyper-partisan era in Washington.  

She got a measure of tentative vindication August 10 when the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill for which she was a lead negotiator.  

“For months people have been saying, ‘Oh bipartisanship is dead and you can only do things when one party does it alone,’ ” Sinema told The Associated Press in a brief interview. “I have never believed that, and I refuse to accept it, and what we’ve shown today is that that talking point is false.” 

Progressive Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated with Sinema, who started her political career as an antiwar activist and has transformed into one of the most prominent moderates in Congress. They see her ironclad commitment to preserving the filibuster, which prevents Democrats from passing most legislation without Republican support, as a barrier to voting rights legislation.  

Two weeks ago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was among 39 people arrested for staging a sit-in outside her Phoenix office, demanding she soften her ironclad commitment to preserving the filibuster. It was the latest in an ongoing series of protests.  

Sinema has long maintained that the filibuster forces Republicans and Democrats to work together and pass less ambitious but more enduring legislation.  

President Joe Biden called to congratulate Sinema shortly after the vote on the infrastructure bill, which garnered 19 Republican votes in addition to all 50 Democrats.  

Sinema’s office has spent weeks promoting the infrastructure bill’s benefits for Arizona, including billions of dollars for roads and bridges, airports, water infrastructure, wildfire prevention and broadband internet. It still requires approval in the House.  

“The bill is filled of game-changing provisions that serve our country,” Sinema said.  

The pressure from the left will only intensify as Senate Democrats turn their attention to a budget resolution envisioning a massive $3.5 trillion, 10-year cascade of federal resources, aiming historic sums at family support, health and education programs and an aggressive drive to heal the climate. That plan is likely to include elements that were stripped from Biden’s original infrastructure proposal in pursuit of bipartisan support.  

“Her work on the infrastructure bill is a huge accomplishment in terms of getting bipartisan agreement on really significant legislation. But I think Arizona children and families still need so much more,” said David Lujan, president and CEO of the Children’s Action Alliance, a Phoenix-based advocacy group. 

Sinema said she supports some of the goals of the plan, but the $3.5 trillion price tag is too big. She has been vague about what she wants to see but pledged to work with Biden and Congress. 

Democrats are using budget procedures that allow them to bypass Republican filibusters, but they will need support from all 50 Democrats, including Sinema and other moderates including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana.  

“I hope she will get behind other Democrats and support the measure through the reconciliation process,” said Lujan, who worked closely with Sinema in the Legislature more than a decade ago, when he was leader of the Arizona House Democrats and she was the assistant leader. 

 

Legislature 2020: How to spend surplus of money

Winged Victory atop the Arizona Capitol Building (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Winged Victory atop the Arizona Capitol Building (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

State lawmakers return to the Capitol Monday to deal with something they appear to have plenty: Money and who gets it.

State tax collections have been running ahead of projections made when lawmakers adopted the $11.8 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1. Projections suggest the state could end the fiscal year this coming June 30 with an extra $750 million or more, perhaps even approaching $1 billion.

That’s money available for lawmakers to spend next budget year — or to permanently cut taxes as some are proposing. And that doesn’t even take into account future collections.

Any discussion will have to include more than how much there is. The more important issue is how much of that surplus is likely to recur in future years.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the issue is simple: Don’t commit money now for projects and programs unless you’re sure the money will continue to be there.

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

“Last I had heard, 30-ish percent, maybe 25 percent of the surplus is considered ongoing,” said Mesnard who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “So we want to make sure that’s the pot that we’re commiting ourselves into the future or to cut taxes in some sort of permanent way.”

The balance, he said, is one-time money.

“We can invest that in roads and one-time projects that are hugely helpful to our state but don’t commit us to some long-term obligation,” Mesnard said.

‘Sweet spot’

That latter category is going to cover a lot of wish-list projects.

Consider, for example, the $20 million that Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, wants for a bridge over Tonto Creek if a request for federal dollars comes up empty. Fund it once and it’s done

Others have their own pet projects.

Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, wants the state to widen Interstate 10 from south of Phoenix into Pinal County. Shope said there is no reason for that 26-mile section to remain two lanes in each direction when everything on either side is three lanes.

But the price tag on that could reach $500 million.

Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, is focused largely on the other pot of funds, the surplus that is likely to continue.

There likely will be a push to put additional dollars into K-12 education.

“We are committed to putting more dollars into the classroom every year,” gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak told Capitol Media Services, promising “full details” when Ducey releases his budget later this week.

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

Toma, for his part, has a specific target in mind: accelerate restoration of what’s called “district additional assistance.”

That is a special allocation of state dollars to schools to pay for things like computers, books and buses. Only thing is, lawmakers seeking to balance the budget failed to fund it for years, including $117 million cut by Ducey his first year in office.

The governor has committed to restoration of the full $372 million — but not until the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Toma said that, given the state’s current financial condition, there’s no reason to wait that long.

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said that’s a start. But she doesn’t believe that goes far enough given the cuts to public education since before the recession.

Consider: In the 2007-2008 school year the state put $5.2 billion into K-12 education. Legislative budget staffers estimate the figure for this year at $6.5 billion.

And, on paper, the per-pupil aid went from $4,996 to $5,762.

But if you consider the effects of inflation, that $4,996 is now worth only about $4,685.

It’s not just Democrats focused on K-12 needs.

Sens. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, and Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, wants to put a measure on the 2020 ballot to increase the existing 0.6-cent state sales tax for education to a full penny, a move that could bring in an additional $550 million to $600 million a year.

Kate Brophy-McGee
Kate Brophy-McGee

“I think that’s the sweet spot,” Brophy McGee said, saying that’s a number that the public is likely willing to accept. The trick, however, is getting her colleagues to agree to put it to voters.

The funds raised would not just be for K-12.

Higher Education

Lawmakers from both parties say state aid to community colleges has not kept pace. In fact, the systems in Maricopa and Pima counties get no state aid at all, though there has been funding for special programs.

And then there is the university system where the state’s share of the cost of tuition for Arizona residents has dropped from about 75 percent to just half that.

“And we wonder why tuition has gone up,” Fernandez said.

Voters actually may get a choice of funding measures.

Others groups are crafting a plan to boost income taxes on the most wealthy under the premise that sales taxes are regressive — the poor pay a higher percentage of their income than the rich — and the simple political fact that it could be crafted so the higher tax rates kick in only at higher incomes, leaving most voters unaffected.

There are some other education-related issues which may not have financial impact, including adding even more cash for counselors and providing more dollars to the state Department of Education to investigate misconduct allegations against teachers.

But the debate about the cash is about more than how to spend it.

Tax Cuts

Toma said that a newly imposed sales tax on internet purchases — the result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case called South Dakota v. Wayfair – is bringing in more than anticipated. So he wants to give some of that back.

“We should be looking at additional relief for the taxpayers because none of the Wayfair decision was intended as a massive increase in income to the government, at least not on the state tax,” he said.

His choice for where to cut?

“I will tell you that my least favorite tax is the property tax,” Toma said.

“And the reason for that is I really feel that’s a hidden tax, that people don’t feel,” he explained. “They feel it, but they don’t really realize that they’re getting pummeled, if you will.”

Mesnard is also focused on lower property taxes, particularly for business.

Business property used to be assess for tax purposes at 25 percent of “full cash value,” essentially a rough approximation of market value. Prior tax cuts have taken that to 18 percent.

The plan would trim that again.

But the problem is that lowering taxes for one type of property increases the burden for others — including homeowners. And that has political

In this Jan. 8 2020, photo, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez answers questions in her office. (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
In this Jan. 8 2020, photo, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez answers questions in her office. (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

implications: homeowners vote, businesses do not.

Mesnard envisions the state using some of its surplus to make up the difference so the tax bill on homeowners does not go up.

That maneuver, coupled with other changes in the Mesnard plan, could trim state revenues by $300 million a year by the time it is fully implemented.

Fernandez said don’t look for Democrat support.

“A tax cut? That’s not one of the things that’s on the table for us,” she said.

Fernandez said lawmakers cut taxes by about $325 million last year with changes to things like the standard deduction on income taxes, a new tax credit of $100 per child and lowering the tax rates for those earning more than $26,500 a year.

Republicans justified the move as simply making up for the fact that changes in federal tax law increased the state tax liability for many Arizonans. The tax cuts, they said, avoided a “windfall” for the state.

Fernandez said her constituents and “stakeholders” – those who provide and depend on government programs – had a different take.

“That last tax cut, I think it equaled $12 per person per year,” she said.

“They would rather have a significant investment they could see,” Fernandez continued. “And that would be in public education and/or infrastructure.”

Meeting future water, power, infrastructure needs

(File photo by Jenna Miller/ Cronkite News)
(File photo by Jenna Miller/ Cronkite News)

Over the past five years, Arizona has been capitalizing on a lot of “ups”  fix up, patch up, and catch up, and we have made some significant progress to build out our infrastructure systems.  

David Cook
David Cook

The state’s largest growth areas of the future are in Pinal County. However, there’s much to do as it relates to bringing water to the county to enable that growth, as groundwater will not be sufficient on its own to meet those needs. Policymakers would be wise to look to investments in infrastructure as a way to solve this challenge; specifically, the infrastructure required to build a system to bring other sources of water to the area. It can be done with the right local, state, and federal leaders working to make those long-term investments in the West and with Mexico.  

 When it comes to powering the future growth of the region, it will be incumbent on electric utilities to work proactively and collaboratively with stakeholders to meet the needs of future residents and businesses. Our 21st century lives require 24/7 power, and a reliable, affordable energy supply will allow for continued economic expansion within Pinal County and elsewhere in the state. Given the recent reliability challenges in Texas, ensuring a low-cost, stable energy supply should be top of mind given the key role it plays in bringing new businesses to Arizona.  

 As future growth occurs, it can be difficult for infrastructure to keep pace. Thoughtful planning for new growth and subsequent construction must be part of the long-term discussion. San Tan Valley is a prime example of the disconnect that can occur between significant growth and a planning process that keeps pace, and I’m proud to say that today, we have accelerated projects to meet the existing road infrastructure needs in that area. Together, we are focused on the transportation needs of the future so as not to fall behind.  

 By continuing to work together and with the right policy support in place, Arizona will continue to be a leader in attracting new residents and new businesses, both nationally and internationally. We just need to ensure that when they arrive, they have the water, power, and roads needed to live and work in our beautiful state.   

David Cook is a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives serving Legislative District 8, which includes parts of Pinal and Gila counties. 

Raising taxes slows projects needed for recovery

tax-cuts-web

Commercial real estate development is a high-risk venture, led by entrepreneurs driving economic development in our communities. Office buildings, shopping centers, apartments, hotels, manufacturing facilities and fulfillment/distribution centers are examples of real estate developments that require significant, high-risk investment. These projects provide jobs, create affordable housing, and meet other needs for Arizonans.   

While Covid challenged nearly every commercial real estate sector in 2020 and 2021, a new report titled the Newmark Opportunity Index ranks Phoenix among the hottest cities for new opportunities in the multifamily housing and hospitality sectors. Over the next few years, buildings throughout Arizona will need to be repurposed and reimaged to adapt to the post-Covid era. As the Valley continues its pandemic recovery and attracts new residents from across the country, it’s important to promote policies that will mobilize and encourage real estate investment, not create unnecessary barriers.  

 As CEO of the Arizona Chapter of NAIOP, I am writing to draw attention to a tax reform proposal that would reduce investment in innovative businesses and real estate projects in the state. NAIOP Arizona is a part of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, which represents developers, owners, and related commercial real estate professionals throughout North America, and advocates for effective public policy on behalf of its members.   

President Biden has committed to helping small businesses “Build Back Better” through grants, investments and an infrastructure package. In response, some members of Congress have introduced legislation that would do the opposite. Certain changes outlined in the American Families Plan and other legislative proposals seek to substantially raise taxes on entrepreneurs and investors by limiting capital gains treatment to only those taxpayers who have significant cash to invest.   

Many real estate projects are developed by small partnerships that rely on a combination of loans, private investment, and business expertise or “sweat equity.”   

Suzanne Kinney
Suzanne Kinney

For context, most real estate projects in Arizona cost tens of millions of dollars to complete  an insurmountable amount of cash for most developers and entrepreneurs to have on hand.  

These types of projects are often funded by investment partnerships between a general partner, who does most of the work, and limited partners, who provide most of the funding. Carried interest, often referred to as “the promoted return” in real estate, is the portion of the project’s profits that the general partner realizes for their investment of time and money when a project is successful. This is not compensation for routine work such as leasing or property management, but rather investment income for the person who added sweat equity with expertise, business acumen and hard work. 

Raising taxes on individuals and small businesses who contribute funds or sweat equity to a project will diminish the incentive to take on risk. This would make it more difficult to attract companies that will create new jobs and could slow efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing in our state. It would also make it harder to increase warehousing capacity for businesses wanting to avoid product shortages like we experienced during the initial months of the Covid pandemic.  

After a year like 2020, this is certainly not the time to discourage long-term investment in Arizona. 

As lawmakers in Washington look to fund the American Families Plan and pass a bipartisan infrastructure package, I urge Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly to reject any proposal that could harm local entrepreneurial innovation, risk taking, and sweat equity. Instead, I encourage our lawmakers to work with their colleagues across the aisle to pass a package that supports long-term investment and growth in Arizona. This is the time to put our communities and job creators first.  

Suzanne Kinney is president and CEO of the Arizona chapter of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association. 

 

  

The Breakdown: Water, water everywhere

 

In this Oct. 14, 2015, file photo, a riverboat glides through Lake Mead on the Colorado River at Hoover Dam near Boulder City, Nev. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
In this Oct. 14, 2015, file photo, a riverboat glides through Lake Mead on the Colorado River at Hoover Dam near Boulder City, Nev. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

It’s been just one week since the 2019 legislative session convened if you can believe it.

Lawmakers – and the Capitol press corps – already have their work cut out for them with hundreds of bills filed, and if you’re wondering why our team hasn’t gotten to one brilliant idea or the other yet, blame Mother Nature.

The long-awaited legislation on water and the Drought Contingency Plan hit legislators’ desks last week. What does – or doesn’t – it say?

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.

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Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Tim Hogan: ‘Trial lawyer’ who shaped education and health care in Arizona

Cap Times Q&A

Attorney Tim Hogan has held elected officials accountable for education funding and health care issues for decades, much to the chagrin of those he has opposed.

Hogan, executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, said this week that he is leaving the center after 26 years.

Some of Hogan’s most consequential suits include Cave Creek Unified School District v. DeWit, in which the courts ruled that the state had been shortchanging schools on inflation funding. Roosevelt Elementary School District No. 66 v. Bishop changed the way school facilities are funded. His latest lawsuit, filed in May, accuses the state of falling short of the court’s orders in Roosevelt.

Hogan reflected on his time with the center and the legal and political landscape, from lessons learned to work that still needs to be done.

Tim Hogan (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Tim Hogan (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

You’ve been a perpetual thorn in the Arizona Legislature’s side for 26 years. What’s the driving force behind it for you personally?

Part of it is just the idea that people with power need to use it responsibly and try to look out for the interests of everybody. I think far too often, our Legislature hasn’t done that. I think they tend to cater to more narrow interests and don’t really pay as much attention to vulnerable populations as they should. I’m convinced – it’s a cliche – but education is the foundation of everything. It really is the great equalizer. I don’t sense that’s been a priority. That really is what builds our society and provides people with the opportunity to make informed choices. For the life of me, I don’t know why that’s not constantly at the top of the legislative agenda.

You’re 65, but you aren’t going to retire. Why not?

I still want to do legal work on cases and issues that I care about. … I just don’t want a regular job.

What do you hope people will remember about your work that you’ve done here?

Truly, I don’t worry about that too much. I don’t look back too much. You can’t do this kind of work and look back. You always have to be looking ahead. We’ve got a record of success in a number of areas that I hope will provide a platform for people in the future to build on, because there’s a lot of work left to be done.

You were derisively called a “trial lawyer” by Gov. Ducey after your latest lawsuit against the state for underfunding school infrastructure. What do you think of that term?

I’m not typically what people think of as a trial lawyer, I guess. I’ve done trials and I’m a lawyer, so I suppose if you put the two of those together… You get these kind of reflexive reactions out of public officials. “Trial lawyers” I think he believes has some bad connotation in the public’s mind – ambulance chasers taking some percentage of recovery from clients, which is absolutely false in my case. I’m a salaried employee of a nonprofit organization. We’ve never filed a case for damages here. We don’t do that. … I told somebody a while back, I’ve been called far worse than a trial lawyer. It just doesn’t even register anymore.

Some education advocates have said they felt duped into supporting Prop. 123 now that the governor and Legislature passed voucher expansion and didn’t do much to help schools otherwise this year. You helped Prop. 123 come together. What do you think of Prop. 123, now that a little time has passed?

There’s a disconnect there in thinking that something that was addressing inflation funding was somehow going to open up all these new vistas. … It was a lawsuit to force the Legislature to do what the law required, which was to provide inflation funding. Inflation funding is meant to maintain your buying power. That’s all. To view it as much more than that, it’s a little wishful thinking. I do think people hoped it would usher in a period where some new initiatives would be considered. They kept calling Prop. 123 the first step. People haven’t seen a second step and they’re disappointed and I get that. That’s ultimately why we had to file this lawsuit last month. We’re going to have to create those steps. It’s clear that there wasn’t any political will to do much more than get Prop. 123 behind them.

How do you decide what kind of issue would make a solid lawsuit?

We look for cases that we can do efficiently, that are going to have an impact on a lot of people, and that we can win. We’re too small for me to do cases I don’t think I can win because it’s a multi-year commitment.

You’ve been filing lawsuits on education issues for decades. Have things gotten better or worse for schools and kids in schools and their families since you started this job?

In many respects, it hasn’t changed too much. … There really hasn’t been any emergence of goal-setting and a plan that would tell us what, as a state, we want. I don’t think we know what we want in terms of education. So that hasn’t changed at all. Our funding level really hasn’t varied too much. I think in recent years, we’ve seen a lesser commitment to public education, certainly the failure to restore the cuts from the recession have hurt. At the same time, we’re putting expanded voucher programs into place. That’s one of the continuing struggles. I think some legislators are far too willing to abandon the public education system for a variety of reasons. We’ve seen more of that. It’s almost as if the people who are proponents are saying and have said, “Public education is a failure.” I don’t know how they measure that. But public education is kind of the foundation of who we are and who we want to be, so this notion that we should just kick it to the curb and privatize a system seems to put us on a path that’s hard to change once you’re on it and I don’t think will lead to much good. … It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. See, we didn’t give you any money and you’re not doing well.

What will you miss the most about working at the center?

Really, it amounts to the people that you work with in this kind of area. I work with great people. I represent great people. It’s one of the huge benefits of working here, you like everybody. It’s not like I have to take on cases, I get to choose.

Wanted — water infrastructure funding

Blue water drop falling down

Unprecedented drought conditions are spreading across Arizona and the Western U.S. Nearly 95% of land in Arizona is in severe, extreme or exceptional drought, and more than 90% of the West is covered by some category of drought.   

Dan Keppen
Dan Keppen

These are the worst levels in the U.S. Drought Monitor’s 21-year history.   

Perhaps the only silver lining in this disaster is that it will hopefully draw public and political attention of the need to take immediate action to help better manage impacts to water resources from drought in the West.   

It’s always a challenge getting lawmakers to talk about water when infrastructure is teed up in Washington. When water infrastructure makes it to the front burner, policymakers are usually talking about drinking water, especially since the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.   

In recent weeks, you’ve likely seen a number of press releases, opinion editorials, and various social media posts lately supporting infrastructure funding in Washington, D.C. Hopefully, you’ve also noticed increased attention being paid toward critical “Western water” infrastructure financing being requested in the 117th Congress. There’s a grassroots Western initiative that is drawing increased attention to this critical issue, and Arizona water advocates are a driving force behind this effort.   

Ian Lyle
Ian Lyle

The Agribusiness & Water Council of Arizona, the National Water Resources Association and the Family Farm Alliance were organized years ago to represent the interests of Western water users, namely, irrigated agriculture, municipal water interests and farmers and ranchers. Our three organizations work closely together and regularly on pressing federal water and natural resource legislative priorities. In this critically dry year, building political support for Western water infrastructure is the top priority.   

Securing congressional funding is essential to address existing aging infrastructure needs. Modernizing and building new infrastructure will help water users and managers stretch water supplies further. This investment will allow a 21st century modernized system to more efficiently use, store and deliver life -sustaining water to help feed and clothe the U.S. and the world.   

Our organizations meet weekly and monthly to develop and coordinate communications with Congress and the White House to educate policymakers about what’s happening “on the ground” out West. We seek to assist elected officials and agency personnel to truly understand what is needed to help Western water users meet the needs of water consumers.  

 Our goal this year has been to get “our type of infrastructure” – Western water infrastructure needs like repairing aging water facilities and building new storage and conveyance facilities – included in the mix as infrastructure negotiations continue in this Congress. Much of this advocacy work was supported by state-driven media and public outreach efforts.   

It is going to be a tough year for many of our water users and the communities they support. We’ll continue our efforts to ensure their voices are heard and that farmers, ranchers and water purveyors keep playing a vital role in supporting the basic needs of their communities.  

Ian Lyle is executive vice president of the National Water Resources Association and Dan Keppen is executive director of the Family Farm Alliance. 

Water infrastructure an investment in healthy environment, economy

(Photo by Ellen O'Brien)
(Photo by Ellen O’Brien)

The physical and natural infrastructure that Arizonans depend upon for their water supply needs attention.  And while the word “infrastructure” may not create images of a vibrant environment, the reality is, our natural surroundings are enhanced by functioning water infrastructure just like our farms, homes, businesses, and communities. 

Arizona has forested watersheds that feed several river systems including the Colorado, Little Colorado, Verde and Salt Rivers, the Gila and San Pedro Rivers and countless streams.  Arizona also has many majestic reservoirs that serve as recreational “lakes” for everyone to enjoy. These watersheds, rivers and reservoirs create an array of diverse ecosystems with varying plant and animal species that benefit all. In addition, those that depend upon the water from these watersheds and rivers, whether that be farmlands or urban uses, in many instances create exceptional habitat for many animal species, local and migratory. Maintaining many of Arizona’s greatest natural habitats therefore requires properly functioning water infrastructure. 

Arizona’s forested watersheds provide the natural infrastructure that feeds our rivers and reservoirs. These watersheds are critical to a clean and reliable water supply and include some of Arizona’s greatest natural habitats. However, this infrastructure is in dire need of forest restoration and adaptation to prevent wildfire and catastrophic impacts to our water supply and natural habitat.  The dams that create reservoirs and water storage facilities also need regular maintenance to function properly and as intended; some even need major rehabilitation to meet current and future long-term water supply demands, environmental benefits, and recreational activities.  Our water infrastructure needs are more than just fixing what is already in place. The future we desire requires us to evaluate our current situation and adapt to change.  As the current administration has said, this is an opportunity to “Build Back Better.”  That time is now, not later! Wherever you are, you are depending on natural and physical water infrastructure in one form or another to improve your quality of life. 

We need to invest in our natural and physical water infrastructure systems to adapt to climate change. This means restoring hundreds of thousands of watershed forested acres to a more natural condition, building more or enhancing existing long-term water storage capacity for surface water to more effectively capture the anticipated extreme variability of precipitation events associated with a changing climate.  New “green infrastructure” methods have recently used farm fields in the winter to capture flood flows. This helps replenish groundwater supplies while also providing critical habitat for wildlife.  

We must also take advantage of new technology to help us increase water supplies through recycling, desalination, and augmentation efforts such as cloud seeding. Moving forward, whether repairing or enhancing existing infrastructure, using new technology or pursuing natural solutions, all will require major federal financial investment.  Historically, long term partnerships with the federal government on water projects have been the basis for the development of the Western U.S.  These partnerships are vital in moving infrastructure projects forward and support from our Arizona Congressional delegation is paramount.   

That is why a diverse Arizona coalition, representing farmers, ranchers, water providers, irrigation and electrical districts, businesses, communities, and others have joined to urge our federal partners to include water infrastructure in upcoming federal infrastructure related legislation. 

Addressing the critical needs of our water infrastructure does so much more than secure a sustainable water future. Investment will create critically important jobs; help improve our economy and assist disadvantaged communities by providing access to clean and reliable water supplies.  Finally, these infrastructure projects will help us adjust to our changing climate and better protect the environment.  

We call on Arizona’s Congressional delegation and all our federal partners to support and assist us in securing this sorely needed investment. 

The Agribusiness & Water Council of Arizona is a not for profit trade association, whose membership represents the entire agricultural community from “ditch bank to dinner plate”, in Arizona. 

We need to build back better for Arizona

President Joe Biden talks with reporters after returning to the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, after a trip to Michigan to promote his infrastructure plan. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

As a son of Scranton, Joe Biden has long been an advocate for working families. From day one, Joe Biden has put workers at the forefront of his “Build Back Better” agenda, fulfilling the promises he made on the campaign trail to put working people first. It’s no surprise that just seven months in office, he’s already on track to be the most pro-union president in American history.  

As a union carpenter, I was pleased to see that

Fabian Sandez

President Biden passed a Covid relief package that provided some much-needed help for American workers and their families. This package delivered immediate relief for Arizona workers, hospitals, schools, and small businesses. 

Now, it’s time to build on that success, plan for tomorrow, and build back better. This starts with passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill. This once-in-a-generation infrastructure investment will transform the state of Arizona. It will repair and rebuild our roads and bridges, invest in clean energy manufacturing, replace outdated lead pipes, enhance our competitiveness, and ensure that the future is made in America by American workers  all while creating good-paying, union jobs. 

For more than 140 years, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has trained, educated, and represented the next generation of skilled construction professionals. To do our jobs safely and effectively, we need leaders who will fight for the safety and wages of hard-working people, support union training programs, and invest in our nation’s infrastructure. President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill accelerates America’s path to full employment and ensures workers are paid their fair share. Furthermore, this bill will protect critical labor standards on construction projects, meaning that our infrastructure  built by Arizona’s best tradesmen  will be built to last.  

Arizona union carpenters have been calling for investments in infrastructure for many years. With the assistance of Arizona’s Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, the Biden administration is on track to deliver.  

The passing of the bipartisan infrastructure bill will create jobs for union carpenters and all labor across Arizona. The investments made to improve our roads, bridges, airports, and public transportation, plus building affordable housing and clean energy infrastructure will position Arizona as the epicenter of the Southwest by fostering growth and prosperity for our workers, our communities, and our state, and bringing President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda to life.  

In October 2020, candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris made their first joint campaign appearance at the Southwest Carpenters Training Center in Phoenix. During this appearance, Biden spoke about the importance of labor unions, and highlighted the benefits of having an “army of carpenters” supporting him. We were behind him then, and we are now. 

Fabian Sandez is the Local 1912 president in Phoenix for the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents more than 58,000 members in six states.