HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 52ND LEGISLATURE

Budget

After years of papering over imbalanced state budgets, the new Governor and Republican Leadership in the Legislature committed to achieving a structurally balanced budget.  A budget that spends only those monies that are available provides the state with fiscal stability, improves credit ratings, and establishes a better climate for businesses looking to expand.

As our state economy slowly continues to improve after the recession, there is a temptation to immediately expand state services. By holding to a conservative approach as revenues increase, Arizona will be in a stronger position to prioritize and allocate available resources to help the most crucial areas of our state.

  • Structurally Balanced Budget by FY 2018:
    • $717 million projected shortfall in FY 2015
    • $257 million projected shortfall in FY 2016
    • $125 million projected shortfall in FY 2017
    • $33 million projected positive structural balance in FY 2018.

Even as difficult decisions were made to produce a structurally balanced budget, leaders made sure K-12 education was not harmed. In fact, K-12 spending has a net increase of $105 million General Fund spending from FY 2015 to FY 2016. That growth is significant given that Arizona was facing a $1 billion deficit going into budget discussions.

  • K-12 – Overall Total K-12 Spending Increased by $105 million:
    • $91 million to fully fund formula increases
    • $85 million increase in K-12 inflation funding
    • $74 million for additional K-12 inflation funding
    • $0.5 million for Teach For America
    • $1.0 million for JTED Soft Capital

For the complete document, click here

Accomplishments of the 52nd Legislature 4-20-15

Posted in Uncategorized

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.

For the rest of the story, click here:

http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2015/04/10/debbie-lesko-efforts-fix-state-pension-systems/25562009/

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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.

http://www.azpbs.org/as3/p/eight.swf?vidId=7569&rel=1

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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.

For the entire article, click here:

http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/arizona/article_defd73e9-f4d4-5657-ac34-758938ab90b1.html

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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.

For the complete story, click here:
http://azdailysun.com/content/tncms/live/

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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