Arizona’s pension system demands a solution

Into the Mind: Debbie Lesko discusses how to fix pensions without breaking the taxpayer bank.

 You’ve pulled together a committee to study the state’s pension systems. Why?

I am leading a pension study group specifically focused on the Arizona Public Safety Retirement System. The goal is to keep the public pension system sustainable without breaking the backs of the taxpayers. This is a critical time. Pension costs are skyrocketing. We need to figure out a way to protect retirement accounts for our valuable employees in a way that doesn’t eat up entire budgets.

Who is in the group?

Our study group is made up of a diverse group of people and interests. The group includes firefighter and law enforcement associations from across the state, the Free Enterprise Club, staff from the public safety retirement system, the League of Cities and Towns, the governor’s office, Republican and Democratic legislators from both the House and the Senate, the Reason Foundation and the Goldwater Institute.

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President Biggs appears on Arizona Horizon

Senate President Andy Biggs appeared on the Arizona Horizon program on April 8. He talked with host Ted Simons about the just-completed legislative session.

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Gov. Ducey signs into law Sen. Lesko’s bill helping AZ contractors

Sen. Lesko

Sen. Lesko

Governor Doug Ducey has signed into law SB 1446, a bill sponsored by Senator Debbie Lesko that will have a major positive impact on the way thousands of Arizona contractors do business.

The bill centers on how the work contractors do and the materials they use are taxed. Because of SB 1446, contractors who do maintenance, repair, replacement and qualified alteration jobs will not be required to have a Transaction Privilege Tax (TPT) license. The contractors will simply pay tax upfront as they buy their materials. The legislation also clarifies the process for contractors who keep their TPT license. This will greatly streamline the process for contractors, and the state will have much better control over revenues.

“I am so pleased to see this important bill become law in Arizona. This has been a continuing work in progress to reform TPT going back to 2012, so this has been three years in the making. We listened to all the parties involved and made changes when necessary. This finished product is a good example of legislation working for Arizonans,” said Senator Lesko.

With this law, Arizona now has a tax system that closely mirrors how contractors operate, with reduced risk for contractors and a simplified audit and tax payment process. Contractors will also now be able to interpret projects and bids the same way. Because of the learning curve to this new procedure, the law says if a contractor acts in good faith to properly report taxes, but was in error, there will be no interest, penalties or additional tax due.

“It is my intent to continue to work with the contractor community and the cities to move to a system where all contractors pay tax on only materials, just like what is already done in 46 other states,” said Sen. Lesko.

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Ariz. law boosts school loan repayment for doctors in ‘underserved’ areas

Senator Griffin

Senator Griffin

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 7:53 am | Updated: 8:45 am, Wed Feb 25, 2015.

By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Tuesday designed to draw more doctors into the rural and “medically underserved” areas of Arizona.

SB 1194 sharply boosts the amount of money the state will repay of a medical student’s loan if they agree to go where the state says they are needed. The measure will take effect this summer.

Arizona already has a medical loan repayment program for both physicians and dentists. But the maximum repayment is $20,000 for the first two years, $22,000 for the third year and $25,000 for the fourth year.

But Kristen Boilini who lobbies for the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, said that does not make much of a dent in student debt. She said the average medical school graduate starts practice with $170,000 in loans; for dental school grads the figure is $240,000.

The new law sponsored by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, makes doctors who go where directed eligible for up to $65,000 for the first two years of service. Potentially more significant, they can get another $35,000 repaid for every year they remain after that, with the only cap being the total number of dollars they owe.

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Measure seeks to entice doctors to rural areas

Senator Griffin

Senator Griffin

State lawmakers are moving to get more doctors into rural and medically underserved areas of the state.
A Senate panel voted Tuesday to expand an existing program that helps doctors repay their medical school debts if they agree to go where they are needed. SB 1194, proposed by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, now goes to the full Senate.
Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, introduced similar legislation in the House. That measure, HB 2495, is awaiting a hearing.
The proposal likely stands a good chance of becoming law despite the state’s financial situation.
That is because the expansion is structured so it would not require any additional state dollars. Kristen Boilini, lobbyist for the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, said the change permits the program to take private donations which she said will be offered.
She said the state needs another 442 full-time primary care physicians, 441 dentists and 204 behavioral health providers and psychiatrists.
That includes not just the rural areas of Arizona. She said while physicians are attracted to some urban areas, there are inner-city areas in both Pima and Maricopa counties where the number of medical providers falls short.
“Generally, they’re communities with high uninsured, underinsured folks,” Boilini said, with a high percentage of residents getting their coverage through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program.

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Focusing on Education Results, not just funding

By Vicki Alger

One of education’s most important annual rituals began last week, when Education Week released its annual Quality Counts report, which grades states based on a variety of criteria, including spending. On cue came the predictable hand-wringing over K-12 education funding.

On Thursday Florida’s Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told the Florida Times-Union that underfunding is undermining student achievement. “[I]magine how much stronger our students would perform if the policy commitments were maintained and balanced with an increase in per pupil funding,” he said.

In the school spending category, the states at the bottom include North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho which ranked the lowest 49th in K-12 spending, depending on the source and its methodology. Among the states earning this distinction were Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas.

California’s 49th place ranking was cited in the 2014 UCLA Undergraduate Students Association resolution, based on per pupil spending adjusted for regional cost-of-living differences. Florida ranked 49th according to the National Education Association. And based on Wallet Hub rankings per capita school spending, Tennessee deserved 49th place. Still other 2014 studies by the Missouri Public School Advocates and the Open Sky Policy Institute gave 49th to Missouri and Nebraska, respectively.

What these identical rankings prove is that you can aggregate data and sift statistics to prove almost anything you want. And what teachers unions and politicians want is more money. Too bad there’s no direct correlation between dollars spent and what matters most: student achievement.

Consider the Education Department’s data on “instructional” spending, which across the U.S. averaged more than $6,500 a student during the 2010-11 school year (the latest data available). Among the dozen states that supposedly ranked 49th in funding last year, Idaho’s instructional spending was reported to be the lowest, around $4,100 a student, followed by Arizona and Oklahoma, which spent about $4,200 and $4,300 respectively. Illinois and Nebraska spent the most, around $7,000 and $7,700, respectively.

How did these states do in terms of student performance? The best answer is to look at the performance of low-income students, those who qualify for the national school-lunch program. Based on public-school results from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational progress (NAEP), the average nationwide reading and math performance among low-income eight grade students was pitiful, with a 48% proficiency rate in both subjects.

The big spenders paid more for worse results. In Nebraska which spent nearly $8,000 per student, a mere 39% of disadvantaged eighth-graders scored proficient or better in reading and math. For the approximately $7,000 a year Illinois spent on instruction, its low-income eighth-graders did no better than the national averages in reading and math.

States that spent less per pupil tended to have better educational outcomes. More than 45% of low income students in Idaho – with its relatively puny $4,100 per pupil spending- tested proficient in reading and math. Low income student in stingy Arizona, which spent $4,200 per pupil on instruction, had 51% proficiency rates in both subjects. And students in penny-pinching Oklahoma, which spent around $4,300 per pupil, achieved a 53% proficiency rate in reading and 52% in math.

One of the most striking differences between these two sets of states is the availability of parental-choice programs. Unlike Nebraska or Illinois both higher-scoring Arizona and Oklahoma have parental-choice scholarship programs that enable parents of disadvantaged students to choose the schools they think are best, including private schools. Schools have to compete for students, which forces them to improve their performance.

Instead of obsessing over who is at the bottom of spending, it would be better to focus on which states are producing the best results for every education dollar spent- and replicate what they’re doing. Student achievement is the only measure that counts.

Ms. Alger is a research fellow at the Independent Institute, Oakland, Calif.

Posted in Budget, Education

Senator Goldwater returns to the U.S. Capitol

51st Legislative Session 021

Arizona will unveil its new statue tomorrow in a special installation ceremony at Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol to honor the late Senator Barry Goldwater’s place in our nation’s history. This is the story of how it happened, from the State Senator who made it happen:

“No individual has had a greater influence on Arizona’s first century than Senator Barry Goldwater. He was known across the country as Mr. Arizona. That is why it is so fitting that we honor his legacy to our great state by placing his likeness in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, where he will stand among the greatest men and women in our nation’s history.

Statuary Hall was authorized by Congress in 1864 to allow each state to provide two statues of notable citizens for display at the U.S. Capitol. Arizona has been represented by John Campbell Greenway since 1930 and Father Eusebio Kino since 1965. The Greenway statue was sculpted by the renowned Gutzon Borglum, creator of Mt. Rushmore.

In the summer of 2007, during my first year in the Arizona legislature, I visited Washington, D.C. with my young family and we were able to take a tour of the U.S. Capitol through Congressman John Shadegg’s office. During the tour, we visited Statuary Hall, and while I was standing in front of the Greenway statue, I looked to my left and saw Daniel Webster from New Hampshire and looked to my right and saw Robert E. Lee from Virginia. I knew those two prominent figures in U.S. history, but I knew very little about John Greenway, other than the road and high school that bear his name in Phoenix. I wondered to myself, ‘wouldn’t it be more appropriate for Arizona to be represented by Mr. Arizona himself, Barry Goldwater?’ When I got back to Phoenix, I did a little research and learned that it was possible to add a new statue.

Congress had enacted legislation only a few years earlier in 2000 enabling states to request the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress approve the replacement of the statue the state has provided, if the request has been approved by the legislature and approved by the Governor.

Before the 2008 legislative session, I carefully drafted a bill that would enable Barry Goldwater to replace John Greenway in Statuary Hall. During my research, I had learned quite a few things about John Greenway, and developed a great deal of respect for him. I did not mean to dishonor or disrespect the legacy of John Greenway in anyway, but I thought that as Arizona was approaching its centennial, it was fitting that she be represented in Statuary Hall by someone who had a greater impact on the first 100 years of statehood. I gathered bipartisan support for the measure and it passed both the House and the Senate and was then signed by Governor Janet Napolitano.

Once approved, the project got off to a very slow start. There were many distractions, it was an election year and by the next legislative session, Governor Napolitano had resigned and Governor Brewer took over during one of the toughest economic recessions in state history. Still, gradually the pieces of the puzzle were put together as the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress approved the Goldwater placement in 2010 and a committee was established to select an artist and raise the money for the endeavor.

More than 20 artists asked to be considered for the prestigious commission. The committee narrowed that group to five and asked that they produce a small maquette as an example of their vision for the statue, along with a life-sized likeness of Senator Goldwater’s face. Ultimately Deborah Copenhaver Fellows from Sonoita, Arizona was selected as the artist.
We could not be more pleased with the finished product. Deborah Copenhaver Fellows has such an amazing talent and has painstakingly poured her soul into this work of art. She has captured Senator Goldwater’s spirit and presence in what I believe is one of the most lifelike and impressive statues in Statuary Hall.

The statues in the Hall rest on pedestals that are usually about three feet high. The statues can be up to 7 feet tall, for a total of 10 feet in height. One of the things I noticed when visiting Statuary Hall is that most of the faces of the statues were so high in the air and looking straight ahead. It was difficult to see the individuals’ faces. I suggested to Deborah before she started the project that it would be a good idea if Senator Goldwater’s head could be slightly tilted down, as if he were making eye contact with the person looking up at him. She loved that idea and has incorporated it into her work and it really looks impressive.

I am so grateful to all those who played a part in this process. It is amazing to me that a whimsical idea I had seven years ago as a new state legislator would take hold and would actually come to pass. There were so many who dedicated their time, energy and talents to pay this tribute to an important Arizona leader. The entire process was extremely challenging to get where we are today. No tax payer funds were used on the project, which is exactly how Senator Goldwater would have wanted it. It is great to have Mr. Arizona back where he belongs, representing Arizona in the U.S. Capitol.”

Senator Adam Driggs
District 28

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