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2010 Legislative Session Roundup: Arizona

Arizona's conservative Legislature made national headlines by passing a discriminatory, anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070.  Confronting one of the steepest budget shortfalls in the nation, the Legislature lurched from privatization schemes to attempting to completely eliminate its health care program for children.  Even as the state's economy remained in crisis, the legislative session was dominated by right-wing obsessions like banning the regulation of greenhouse gases, gun lobby priorities, attacks on ethnic study classes, and bans on embryo and stem cell research.  A few progressive initiatives like encouraging youth voting and transparency for local budgets were approved, but extreme right-wing posturing marred the session and failed to address the state's precarious economic and fiscal standing.

Tax and Budget:  With an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent in March, 82,200 jobs lost since the previous year, and the state's revenue plummeting by 16.5 percent last year, Arizona confronted a mid-year FY2010 budget shortfall of $1.9 billion and a $2.6 billion projected FY2011 deficit.  Over a decade of corporate tax cuts, regressive budgets, and severe spending and revenue constraints have exacerbated Arizona's economic and fiscal decline.

Unfortunately, this year's budget, predominantly relying on budget cuts and borrowing, will only dim Arizona's prospects for recovery and harm the state's working families.  Rather than deal with long-term revenue shortfalls, the state borrowed $2 billion and delayed $1.4 billion in payments.  This was matched by draconian spending cuts, including:

  • Cutting state services by $2 billion, including completely removing funds for the Department of Tourism and a 58 percent cut to the Department of Water
  • Cutting state employees' salaries by 2.5 percent
  • Reducing TANF benefits for working families by decreasing the maximum benefit period from 60 to 36 months and disqualifying 10,000 families from assistance
  • Cutting funding for domestic violence shelters
  • Reducing funding for Education and Health and Human Services by $1.6 billion
  • Completely eliminating funding for all-day Kindergarten.

Notably, the Legislature refused to approve unemployment benefit modernization legislation, HB 2712, choosing to forgo $150 million in federal funds rather than expand the eligibility determination for unemployment insurance.

Zigzag on Abolishing KidsCare:  Right-wing legislators targeted KidsCare, the state's public insurance program for children, as part of budget balancing measures early in session.  The Legislature approved SB1010, to eliminate the program and remove statutory requirements in state law to provide health care coverage to low-income children.  The move would have spelled the end of primary health care coverage for 50,000 Arizona children and the loss of $7.8 billion in federal matching funds.  

Fortunately, a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires states to maintain health care programs as they existed at the time federal health care reform was enacted.  In the end, lawmakers agreed to partially restore funding to the children's health program and passed SB 1043, but have continued to freeze enrollment.  As part of the budget agreement, the Legislature eliminated funds to help counties pay for health care coverage, enacted cuts to elderly in-home services, and removed behavioral health funding for 14,600 seriously mentally-ill adults, 4,200 children, and 11,000 adults with general mental illnesses.

Arizona Voters Approve Sales Tax Increase:  On May 18, Arizona voters approved Proposition 100, a measure to temporarily increase the statewide sales tax by one cent for the next three years, by a substantial margin.  The increase will generate $1 billion in additional revenue per year.  Gov. Jan Brewer campaigned diligently for the increase, emphasizing, "[i]t is always a difficult thing to vote for an increase in taxes but it is the right thing to do.  Prop 100 is not a cure all, but it will get us through."

Immigration:  Supported by national anti-immigrant networks, conservative Arizona legislators passed a draconian, anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, which allows state and local law enforcement to arrest anyone upon "reasonable suspicion" that they are undocumented.  The law faces several legal challenges and has drawn immense criticism from civil rights advocates, police officers, state lawmakers, Congressional leaders, and President Barack Obama. As PSN noted recently, the law's broad, deleterious implications include legalizing racial profiling, criminalizing immigration, undercutting federalism, criminalizing speech, potentially deterring local authorities from enforcing other laws, and decreasing economic activity.  As Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema stated, "[u]nfortunately, this bill represents the very worst about America.  This bill just runs roughshod over the entire Constitution."

Discriminatory Education Initiatives:  Following SB 1070's promotion of racial profiling in the state, Arizona legislators approved HB 2281, which prohibits the teaching of ethnic studies in public schools.  Some analysts compared this to historical bans in the past on Native Americans studying their own history.  A United Nations human rights representative remarked, "everyone has the right to seek and develop cultural knowledge and to know and understand his or her own culture and that of others through education and information."  In line with the Legislature's actions, the state's Department of Education last month mandated the removal of teachers whose English is deemed to be "heavily accented or ungrammatical" from the classroom.

Other Right-Wing Initiatives proliferated in the legislature, including:

  • Barring Climate Change Regulation:  Legislators enacted HB 2442, a step backward in environmental policy that prohibits state agencies from regulating greenhouse gases.
  • Banning Scientific Research:  SB 1307 bans anyone from creating in vitro human embryo for any other purpose than fertilization and essentially prohibits stem cell research.
  • Gun Lobby Priorities:  The gun lobby won on a number of fronts, including allowing adults to carry a concealed weapon without a permit (HB 269), prohibiting local governments from regulating the possession, sale, or manufacturing of knives (SB 1153), exempting any firearm or ammunition manufactured and maintained in Arizona from federal regulation and registration (SB 1098), and proposing a constitutional amendment (HCR 2008) for the fall ballot to protect the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wild life. 

Gov. Brewer hoped to join some other states in a partisan lawsuit against federal health care reform, but the state's Attorney General Terry Goddard refused to do so.

Teacher Evaluations:  SB 1040 adapted a new framework for reviewing teacher quality.  After intense debate, the bill requires the creation of a new system for evaluating teachers which will be based 33 to 50 percent on student academic performance and progress.

A Few Progressive Victories:

  • Spending Transparency:  Lawmakers successfully advanced HB 2282, which requires local governments to maintain a website that is publicly accessible and contains a comprehensive database of state receipts and expenditures. Legislation (HB 2325) was introduced that would foster comprehensive reporting of subsidy allocation, contract distribution, tax expenditures, and corporate taxation trends, but the effort ultimately failed.
  • Youth Voting:  Gov. Brewer signed HB 2668, which requires the state's Board of Regents to work with university and community college student governments to formulate a plan to increase student voter registration and voter participation.  Certain strategies to expand registration include providing voting information with admission packets during orientation and on school websites.
  • Minority Issues:  SB 1174 creates the Arizona Commission of African-American Affairs, whose mission is to bolster state and federal agencies in supporting African-American communities.
  • Foreclosure Prevention:  Lawmakers considered several bills in order to alleviate the state's foreclosure crisis.  The Legislature passed HB 2766, which requires landlords to provide potential rental tenants with written notices on a lease agreement if a foreclosure proceeding had started on the property before lease signing.

Sexual Abuse:  Despite some high-profile debate on the measure, lawmakers failed to approve SB 1292, an effort to eliminate the statute of limitations for victims who were sexually abused as minors.  Currently, adults in Arizona have only two years after their 18th birthday to sue the perpetrator.

Resources:
The Arizona Republic - 2010 Session Wraps Up - Partisan to the End
The Arizona Republic
- Arizona's Immigration Law Became Big Story of Session
The Arizona Republic - Arizona Legislature Set to Go Home After Wide-Ranging Session
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - Recession Continues to Batter State Budgets
Children's Action Alliance - Final FY10/11 Arizona Budget Changes: How Vulnerable Children and Families Fare
Children's Action Alliance - Who's for Kids and Who'd Just Kidding? A 2010 Legislative Wrap Up and Report Card
Pew Center on the States - Beyond California: States in Fiscal Peril
Progressive States Network - Arizona and the Nation: A Failing State Versus Positive Approaches to Immigrant Integration
Progressive States Network - Arizona Risks Jeopardizing its Economic Future as it Contemplates Passing Anti-Immigrant Law