Hobbs pushes for relocation of confederate monument

This memorial to Confederate troops was erected in 1961 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of six monuments around Arizona. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
This memorial to Confederate troops was erected in 1961 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of six monuments around Arizona. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

After repeated calls to remove the confederate monument at Wesley Bolin Plaza (near the Arizona Capitol) have fallen short, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has a new plan — relocate it to the Capitol Museum. 

Hobbs wrote a letter to Andy Tobin, Department of Administration director, requesting the monument be placed in the Capitol Museum, which she oversees. She cited Tobin’s power under state statute to “relocate” monuments. 

Hobbs wrote that removing it “isn’t a choice to erase our history, it’s a choice to embrace our future.” 

A spokeswoman for the Department of Administration said the office will look into the issue, but would not specify whether the monument will be relocated. 

“We received the letter from the Secretary of State. We respect her position as an elected official and her position on this issue. We will look into the issue and follow up accordingly,” Megan Rose said in a statement.

Hobbs also wrote that the monument is undeserving “to sit among the honorable individuals and causes that are recognized in the Plaza.” 

“We won’t heal the divisions in our country by honoring those who would divide us,” she wrote.

Ducey’s spokesman said the governor’s office will work with Tobin’s department, but wouldn’t commit to relocating the monument. 

“We want to have a full understanding about it,” spokesman Patrick Ptak said. “There’s a reason that the Secretary wrote this to the Department of Administration … and we are going to coordinate with them on the next steps.” 

The issue of monuments and the Confederacy has taken on new life in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, an incident that was captured on video. 

That has energized nationwide protests and resulted this past week in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam saying he intends to remove a statute honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue in Richmond.

“It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now,” Northam said. “So we’re taking it down.”

This is far from the first time someone has requested to have the Arizona monument removed. Most notably, Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, called on Gov. Doug Ducey in 2015 and again in 2017 to have it taken down, though Ducey cannot make that decision alone. 

The plaza is overseen by the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission, which appears to be why Hobbs went to Tobin rather than the governor.

After the 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, several states attempted to remove confederate statues, including Arizona, but this one still remains upright.

Bolding, who is one of only three African American members of the Arizona Legislature, said in 2017 he thought Ducey was just offering “lip service” to the black community. 

Someone even dressed it up as a “participation award” with a banner that read “you lost, get over it.”

Arizona still has several other confederate monuments throughout the state as well.

What’s interesting is Arizona doesn’t have close ties to the Confederacy much at all, and the monuments were not given to the state until several years after the Civil War ended. The monument sitting at Wesley Bolin Plaza was not erected until 1962, according to Hobbs’ letter.

The Phoenix New Times detailed Arizona’s history behind the monuments in a 2017 article, where it was reported the first monument in the state came in 1943 and the most recent in 2010. 

Capitol Media Services contributed to this story. 

Lawmakers, farmers balk at agriculture lab move

The building housing the state agriculture lab, located at 1520 W. Adams St., is slated to be demolished early next year. PHOTO BY PAULINA PINEDA/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
The building housing the state agriculture lab, located at 1520 W. Adams St., is slated to be demolished early next year. PHOTO BY PAULINA PINEDA/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

The Arizona Department of Agriculture plans to move its laboratory from the Capitol Mall to a building in Chandler, despite opposition from lawmakers and the industry.

Fifteen state legislators sent a letter late last month to Agriculture Director Mark Killian asking that the department refrain from moving forward with a lease agreement for a new building in Chandler until the issue could be further studied.

They said that the yearly rent at the new building was roughly three times more than what the Legislature approved in this year’s budget to cover rent at the existing location, and that the department was proposing to use a fund sweep, outside of the budgetary process, to cover the costs.

According to the letter, the relocation would cost between $500,000 and $900,000 in the first year alone, plus $400,000 every year after that in rent.

Lawmakers suggested that the department contract with a private laboratory or consider moving the lab into a state-run building until a less expensive solution could be found.

But the opposition effort, which is being spearheaded by Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, was futile.

In response to lawmakers’ concerns, Killian said the department explored all of its options and the Chandler location was the most viable. He said the Agriculture Department and the Arizona Department of Administration are working to make the move in December.

In an August 10 letter, Killian said the department’s lab is currently housed in a building that “has reached the end of its useful life,” and it must be relocated.


The lab, located at 1520 W. Adams Street, is one of two buildings adjacent to an ADOA parking lot that are slated to be demolished early next year, ADOA spokeswoman Megan Rose said.

Rose said the decision to demolish the building and another building that houses the state’s data center is part of ADOA’s capital improvement plan and has been in the works for a while. The demolition was approved by the Joint Committee on Capital Review on July 24.

The state agriculture lab is charged with performing laboratory testing, certifying government, industry and private labs that provide agricultural services, and it also conducts agriculture product and residue testing – services that are all required under state statute.

Killian said because of the critical work the laboratory is charged with carrying out, it was imperative to find a suitable location that could meet the state’s need. It wasn’t an easy task, however.

Rose said before deciding on the Chandler location, ADOA looked at moving the lab to a state-owned space on the Capitol Mall, but none of the existing buildings had the necessary square footage or infrastructure.

ADOA also met with University of Arizona officials to see if space could be made available at a university laboratory, but Rose said that wasn’t a viable option. Killian wrote in his letter that the university responded to the state’s inquiry with a proposal to lease space to the department that would cost $10 million up-front for tenant improvements and an annual rent of $500,000, which he said was cost-prohibitive

Killian said the department also looked into partnering with a private lab, but because the state is required to certify food safety, outsourcing the work wasn’t an option. He said if the department outsourced the work, state statute would still require the department to certify the private lab’s results, which would lead to “operational duplication and cost increases that would not add value.”

He said the Agriculture Department used a state-contracted real estate broker and ADOA conducted two searches for properties. After reviewing 20 properties that were identified in the searches, the agencies settled on a multipurpose property in Chandler near Loops 101 and 202.

The lease agreement would exempt the department from paying rent for the first seven months of a seven-year lease. The annual cost of renting the building is $438,300 in fiscal year 2020 and $473,100 through the end of the lease in 2026, more than lawmakers had initially anticipated.

The department will also have to pay the first $500,000 in tenant improvement costs and the landlord will cover additional costs. Killian said the property contains space that is currently built out as a laboratory, minimizing the amount of work that will need to be carried out prior to moving in.

And he estimated that the cost for the physical relocation of the laboratory will be roughly $100,000.

That would bring the total the department will be on the hook for in fiscal year 2019 to $600,000.

The department’s decision to move forward with the relocation has led industry leaders to reach out to the Governor’s Office in hopes of coming up with a better solution, Cook said.

He said leaders from the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, Western Growers Association, Arizona Nursery Association and the Arizona Crop Improvement Association met this week with Hunter Moore, Gov. Doug Ducey’s natural resources policy adviser, in an effort to find an alternate solution to relocating the lab.

Cook said the Legislature and industry leaders should have been involved in discussions since the beginning, and he said the department is steamrolling agriculture producers who pay into the fund that is being used to cover relocation costs.

Kevin Rogers, executive vice-president of the Cotton Growers Association, said the groups’ major concern is that they weren’t made aware of the proposed relocation until just recently, even though the demolition of the building has been on ADOA’s radar for months.

He said the industry has also taken issue with how the department plans to pay for the relocation, which he said the industry sees as a fund sweep.

“We’re not happy with the fund sweeps at all. These are dollars that we self-tax ourselves for specific uses and we’re not happy any time you sweep funds, especially without much discussion in the process at all,” he said.

In his response to lawmakers, Killian said the department has long had the authority to use revenues collected from fees to “facilitate the administration of key agriculture laboratory functions.”

“In fact, four of the five funds have historically been used for this purpose,” he wrote.

Rogers said the groups are hoping to work with the Governor’s Office, the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, and the Agriculture Department to come up with a more cost-efficient solution that will still meet the department’s needs.

He said one option they are advocating for is partnering with the UofA, which has an extensive lab program at the Maricopa Agriculture Center, and he said industry leaders are pushing the department to continue conversations with the university to see if they can strike a deal.

“Are there other options short of spending the type of dollars they’re proposing to spend?” Rogers said. “Maybe the answer is ‘no,’ but we’d like to have a dialogue to make sure we’re spending tax dollars and grower dollars the best possible way. We completely agree we need a new lab. The existing lab is falling apart and the building is being condemned. However, we wish we would have been involved in the discussion back in the spring when the Legislature was in session so that they could have helped us with a solution and so that we would have had a little bit more time to come up with some more options rather than just jumping right into a new facility.”

State employees, retirees will pay for health insurance trust sweeps

Arizona state employees will pay higher premiums and copays for health insurance next year, and some lawmakers say funding sweeps approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature are partly to blame.

Employees and state retirees were notified September 18 that their insurance premiums will increase effective January 1, the first hike in employee’s insurance payments since 2011, according to a memo from the Arizona Department of Administration. Copays are also increasing for some services, while chiropractic care and certain therapy services will now be classified as specialist care, requiring co-pay hikes of $25 more per visit.

Premium hikes will cost an average of $151.32 more annually for state employees, an expense ADOA officials say is necessary given “skyrocketing” health care costs that have endangered the solvency of a trust fund that pays the costs of employee’s medical and dental claims, according to the memo.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which was briefed on September 6 of the department’s decision to raise insurance costs, opposes the plan, as some argued that funding sweeps are truly to blame for the Health Insurance Trust Fund’s financial woes.

Since 2011, the Arizona Legislature has approved budgets that swept roughly $275 million from the trust fund under then-Gov. Jan Brewer and the first two years of Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration, according to legislative budget analysts.

That would have, at least for now, more than covered projected deficits for the trust fund, Rep. Mark Cardenas said.

Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix)
Rep. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix)

“The employee’s health insurance fund has been the Legislature’s personal piggy bank for the last eight years,” the Phoenix Democrat said.

The most recent sweep, $78.9 million approved in Ducey’s second year in office, was the largest of six consecutive years of dollars swept from the trust fund to the state’s general fund to help balance the budget.

The Health Insurance Trust Fund is financed by insurance premiums paid by state employees and various state agencies, which as employers cover 90 percent of state workers’ health care costs.

Sweeping those funds to cover costs elsewhere in the state budget has now come at the expense of state’s 60,000 insured employees and retirees, said Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa.

The adjustment for current employees ranges from a low of $48.10 to $301.08 annually.

The cost to retirees is even higher, since they pay 100 percent of their premiums. For instance, for those not on Medicare, premiums will jump from a low of $711.60 annually for a retiree-only plan, while family plans will increase as much as $2,636.40 annually.

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

“When the Legislature sweeps the fund over and over again, and then we come back and we have a crisis, we refund the fund on the backs of state employees,” Farnsworth said. “I don’t think that’s right.”

As a Republican lawmaker, Farnsworth is responsible for voting for some of those funding sweeps since he began serving in the Senate in 2013. Rep. Don Shooter, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, acknowledged that wounds to the Health Insurance Trust Fund are in part inflicted by lawmakers, and in the future, lawmakers must cease sweeping those funds.

“We kind’ve dug a hole, which now we’re living with,” the Yuma Republican said.

However, Shooter said he doesn’t regret voting for budgets that included those sweeps. While “it doesn’t take a genius” to realize that six consecutive years of funding sweeps wasn’t sustainable, Shooter said that budgets are never perfect, and the sweeps were necessary to secure budget deals in the past.

Ducey Spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said that the sweeps weren’t done lightly, and that the money was put to good use.

“The state was in a real bind during the recession, and continued to be when we took office in 2015,” Scarpinato said. “There were some difficult choices made. I think it was a good thing that we limited layoffs and drastic cuts, or more drastic cuts, to certain areas that would have really had a detrimental impact, (rather) than to just let cash sit around.”

State lawmakers already acknowledged problems with the Health Insurance Trust Fund earlier this year, when they approved a $75 million cash infusion as part of the fiscal year 2018 budget. But that was not enough, and now the only way to make the Health Insurance Trust Fund whole again is to stop future funding sweeps and to raise premiums, Shooter said.

Rep. Charlene Fernandez (D- Yuma)
Rep. Charlene Fernandez (D- Yuma)

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D- Yuma, said hiking premiums wasn’t the only option. The Legislature could have continued to appropriate money to support the trust fund, and found other areas in the budget – Democrats have long proposed taking a closer look at the state’s multitude of tax credits, and letting some expire – to pay for it.

That option would have held state employees harmless from the Legislature’s errors, she said.

Memos to state employees and retirees note some benefits to the adjustments to insurance plans, including making preventative care free – under current plans, employees still paid a copay for routine checkups. The state has also sought to make the cost of care competitive compared to other government entities and the private sector, Scarpinato said. In years when the trust fund was considered healthy enough to sweep from, employees were sometimes given holidays from paying premiums, and in 2016, premiums were lowered for some employees and retirees he said.

“I think you’ve seen a real effort by the state, and not just under our administration, but really all through the recession, of really avoiding any increases in premiums for our employees, and in fact at one point in time actually lowering premiums,” Scarpinato said. “That is, I think, unheard of to anyone … who doesn’t work in state government.”

ADOA officials have no say over the past sweeps of the Health Insurance Trust Fund by lawmakers. In those years, the fund did have a healthy balance, well above best practices and industry standards, according to Megan Rose, an agency spokeswoman.

In recent years, however, state officials have underestimated the rising costs of medical care, she said, an indication of how much those costs have risen.

Now, based on those same industry standards, “with the reserve that we have and we keep, and the premiums we collect, we are not able to pay the bills,” Rose said.

In a budget request submitted this month to the Governor’s Office, officials wrote that the fund would have a deficit of $219.3 million in 2019 if no changes are made to the premiums paid by employees and state agencies. With the adjustments in premiums and copays, that has been trimmed to a projected $55.6 million deficit. Rose said premiums are designed to cover all the expenses from medical and dental claims of the state’s employees and retirees. No more, no less.

“The goal of the Health Insurance Trust fund is to collect what we spend. It’s not meant to be some type of savings account,” she said.

State operations chief abruptly resigns

The director of the state’s operations agency has resigned.

Craig Brown (Photo by ADOA)
Craig Brown (Photo by ADOA)

Craig Brown, head of the Arizona Department of Administration, sent in his resignation letter to Gov. Doug Ducey today.

“I have fulfilled my two-year commitment to serve in that capacity,” Brown wrote to Ducey.

Gilbert Davidson, who joined the administration in October as Ducey’s chief operations officer, will serve as ADOA interim director until a new director is appointed.

Brown joined the Ducey administration in September 2015. Previously, he worked as a management consultant and spent 29 years at Intel.

In an email sent to ADOA employees, agency spokesman Megan Rose said Brown had accomplished a lot during his tenure with the agency, including a new management system, a real estate strategy for state buildings and digitization efforts.

“With this framework in place, we plan to keep the energy up and the end goal in mind, which is to deliver results through solving problems, thought leadership, keeping commitments and driving continuous improvement,” Rose wrote.