The State Legislature – It’s Time to Fix It!

Kent Solberg yardsign

Over the past four years, the Arizona State Legislature has been about as irresponsible as anyone can possibly imagine! It's only gotten worse in the last two years. The proper role of government is to protect our citizens and improve their lives. Kent believes that the only solution is to do some heavy-duty housecleaning, both in its personnel and in its very structure.

Here are some examples of our current Legislature's mistakes:

By law, our State budget must be balanced each year. This is a good thing, if handled wisely. Not so long ago, when the economy was better, Arizona actually had a budget surplus! The Legislature should have done the responsible thing and put most of this surplus into its Rainy Day Fund, to be used for future difficult times (and make a few bucks in interest for the State) - just like a responsible family would do.

Instead the Legislature went on an ill-conceived tax-cutting binge, giving tax dollars back not to ordinary citizens, but rather large corporations, well-off individuals, and special interest groups. They squandered a great opportunity to build up the Rainy Day Fund for hard times like we 're going through now. From the perspective of fiscal year 2010, these actions of just a few years ago look quite foolish! With harder times came the current budget deficit crisis. Instead of reversing their mistake, the Legislature plowed ahead, trying to balance the budget through economic skullduggery and regressive taxation, and smoke-and-mirrors.

They began trying to cover our budget shortfall by deferring payments that were already overdue, thus increasing the interest we'll end up paying. They made huge cuts to schools & universities, social services, and health care, jeopardizing our State’s economic future by depriving us of an economically productive base of healthy, well-educated citizens. They passed the buck to other government agencies (i.e., by shifting expenses to counties, cities and local police departments), forcing them to try to take up the slack with money that they don't have.

Incredibly, the Legislature has resorted to selling State assets to corporations; they even sold off our State Capitol Building, and signed a long-term lease for its use. They poured money into advertising the Arizona State Lottery in an effort to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, the struggling, and the working class. This would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. Our children and grandchildren will be paying for the misguided actions of this Legislature for decades to come.

Finally, in May of this year, they convinced Arizona voters to come out and support Proposition 100; they said we had no way to balance the budget but to further increase the State’s already bloated sales tax, a tax that takes a disproportionate percentage of income from the poor and middle class than it does from the wealthy. All this was done to cover a rising deficit, which they (by and large) created by cutting taxes to the wealthiest constituents of our state.

The tragedy is that most of this did not have to happen. When the budgetary process works right, our tax dollars are spent wisely, and the future economy is not threatened by huge, unsustainable debt. During times of economic downturn, State government spending, derived from the Rainy Day Fund, is necessary to prop up a slowing economy and to spur recovery. Such spending can also guarantee that those most affected by the downturn (the unemployed and underemployed, the poor, those with the least resources to withstand these down times) can rely on consistent government programs and services which are particularly needed during those slower times, thus fulfilling one of the major promises of government: the protection of its citizens.

Bad Laws

One way to create a smokescreen for the Legislature's fiscally irresponsible actions was to pass sometimes popular but frequently unconstitutional, immoral, and racist laws, such as SB1070. Not only will SB1070 promote racial profiling, while not solving a single problem, it places a heavy burden on state and local law enforcement agencies when they're feeling the burn of budget cuts just like every other agency. It's a slap in the face to a large portion of our population who not only are here legally, but whose ancestors have lived here for generations. SB1070 has made Arizona the laughingstock of our country, and has caused major cities, organizations, musicians, etc. to boycott the entire state, by canceling contracts as well as conventions, concerts and other events. With our economy so dependent on travel and tourism, SB1070 could be a major blow to our economic recovery.

Meddling in local affairs

The State Legislature has been meddling in the local affairs of our Cities and Counties for far too long; this meddling extends beyond immigration into many other areas, and needs to stop.

One of the worst examples of this happened a year or so ago when the Legislature extended the taxing authority of the Rio Nuevo project in Tucson. Rio Nuevo and its taxing authority were soon due to expire when the Legislature elbowed in to extend it for another 12 years. The citizens of Tucson had originally voted for this project, exercising their right to make local decisions locally. But as time went on, most began to see Rio Nuevo as wasteful and unproductive; it was widely believed that its reauthorization would be rejected by Tucson voters. But Tucson voters never got that opportunity! The State legislature forced the taxpayers of Tucson to continue funding this boondoggle. Finally, last year, the Legislature suddenly reversed itself again, and seized partial control of what should be a local project. Does anyone really believe that Phoenix can run Rio Nuevo any better than the Tucson? Our local leaders may have bungled it, to be sure, but allowing the State to seize control of local redevelopment is not the solution.

The Legislature also passed a law this past session, which will force the City of Tucson to convert to non-partisan elections and to elect members of City Council by Ward, beginning in 2011. Partisan elections have a long tradition in Tucson and work well for the City. (Ironically, of course, the very same State Legislators who forced this on us are, themselves are elected in partisan elections. And they have no intention of changing that!) This cynically motivated action was clearly intended to advantage one political party over the others. Bottom line: State government should not meddle in the affairs of local government. Local government is the foundation of our Democracy!

While the legislature was being fiscally irresponsible, passing terrible laws, and meddling in local affairs, they were ignoring the urgent need for action on a number of critical issues. Here are just a few:

Our health care system is in steady decline, despite the recent federal legislation. There is much our State government could do to help in this area; unfortunately, it seems all they really want to do is cut existing programs, hurt families and children, and prop up the corporations which profit off of illness.

There are numerous things the State could do to cover larger numbers of people, but the best option would be to develop a single-payer health care system (Medicare for All) to cover all Arizonans. This would not only increase access to quality medical care, but it would reduce the cost of health care to taxpayers, make our businesses more competitive by relieving them of the burden of providing health care to their employees (or choosing not to and then losing their best and brightest to rival businesses). What's most important, though, is that a single-payer system is the right thing to do for all Arizonans (see more below under Proposition 106).

One reform now being considered would save millions and make our legislature more efficient – the merger of The Arizona State Senate and the House of Representatives into a single legislative chamber (technically called a "unicameral body"). The State of Nebraska has had such a system for decades. All the Provinces of Canada are unicameral, and their legislatures function at least as well as ours. Likewise, many countries have unicameral Parliaments. All of Arizona’s City Councils, Boards of Supervisors, School Districts, etc., are unicameral.

Under our current system, the State Senate and House are essentially duplicate institutions, doing exactly the same work! They represent exactly the same constituents and have duplicate staff, legislative committees, paperwork, supplies, offices, etc. As Senate and House districts now cover the exact same geographic area, any previous benefit to this system no longer has any justification. Eliminating this wasteful system will save money and streamline the legislative process in our State.

In recent times, the Arizona Senate has become a nice cozy and safe elected position where State House members can be re-elected to essentially the same job and escape the ban imposed on them by term limits!  Ending this system will also put a stop to the all-too-frequent farce of the House and Senate passing bills back and forth and making little changes in a legislative game of cat and mouse. Currently, bills cannot become law unless they're passed by both chambers with exactly the same wording. All totally unnecessary work, unless you are a member of the elite political class and want to hang on to your job. Why should we hang on to all of these Legislator-welfare-kings? These are the same people who sold our State Capitol!

The simplest version of this reform would be to just eliminate the State Senate and leave the Arizona House of Representatives to perform all the duties of the Legislature. Other, more complicated versions of this reform are being discussed, though some make more sense than others. Bottom line: countless millions would be saved, the legislature would be more efficient, and a useless relic of history would be put out to pasture.

Protecting the Initiative and Constitutional Amendment process.

The right of voters to propose and bring to a public vote Initiatives and Constitutional Amendments is a cherished democratic right, but it needs to be safeguarded against those who would abuse it to benefit themselves and special interests. We must actively oppose initiatives, which limit choice for Arizonans.

Proposition 106, a Constitutional Amendment that will appear on the November ballot, is a prime example of this abuse. It limits choices for Arizonans before any specific proposal is even made. Specifically, it just says NO to any future effort to improve healthcare for all Arizonans, regardless of the merits. Kent believes this is just plain wrong!

Specifically, the so-called “Freedom of Choice” Amendment would prohibit the Legislature from setting up any health care system that would provide care for every citizen. An amendment this narrow in concept does not serve the people of Arizona; it merely advances the rights of health insurance companies. 

The Constitution is the tool we have to protect the citizens. Amending the Constitution this way does the opposite.  Proposition 106 would set in stone that the providers of health insurance in Arizona will always be private corporations. If passed, there would be no possibility of the Legislature setting up a public insurance plan like seniors have with Medicare. A Medicare For All plan would provide health care that is privately delivered and publicly funded. This means that Arizonans would maintain the freedom of choice of their own doctors, clinics and hospitals. The payer of these services would be a single entity, rather than dozens of insurance companies. A key benefit of such a system would be a huge cost reduction in administrative overhead.

Kent believes that slamming the door on a single-payer system, or any other possible reforms, is a step backward, not a step forward.

Another abuse of the system is the inappropriate use of Special Elections. Special Elections are just that, elections on specific proposals, usually just one issue. Year after year, millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted by scheduling special elections in April or May, rather than waiting a few months for the Primary Election in August or the General Election in November. Kent believes this wrong, it is wasteful of public funds and it often allows special interests to pass measures, which might not pass in a normal election.  Special elections are often scheduled because the backers of various proposals know that they are sure to lose if voter turnout (i.e., citizens participating in democracy) is high. Voter turnout is always highest at the General Elections in November.

A recent example of this was the RTA (Regional Transit Authority) Special Election in Pima County in May 2006. Only 7% of registered voters in our County cast ballots! "Special interests" push these "special elections" because they know that all they need to do is mobilize a small number of supporters on a certain day to get the result they want. Real estate developers and automobile dealers raised more than a million dollars to make sure that those 7% voted the right way, and passed an increase in the sales tax that disproportionately affects working families and will last for 20 years.

Just a few months ago, a similar event occurred with Proposition 100. This proposition raised the sales tax by another cent on the dollar and will last 3 years. Proposition 100 was placed on the ballot with the backing of the Legislature and our (un-elected) Governor. By controlling the timing of the election, political consultants can often manipulate the outcome by channeling millions of special interest money and get the desired outcome for their clients. And the added force of the Legislature threatening to cut more education and other necessary programs (resulting form a deficit they had a large part in making), if the Proposition did not pass did the trick. We’ve all experienced these elections when almost every other day you receive the slick, glossy, and provocative mailers, from the same political consultants paid for by the same wealthy political action committees.

ENOUGH with these "special" elections timed to benefit the causes of special interests, and that waste your hard-earned tax dollars! Kent believes that the Legislature needs to sponsor a Constitutional Amendment to limit special elections ONLY to emergency situations, where an initiative needs to be decided on immediately and can't wait till August or November. A provision to determine if an emergency situation exists to merit a Special Election should be detailed in this Constitutional Amendment.

Kent believes that for elections to function properly and fairly, the public needs to be protected from those who try to game the system.

More protection of human rights

It’s time the Legislature joins the 21st Century and drops the ill-conceived, racial-profiling bill SB1070, and also guarantees equal rights to all citizens of Arizona, regardless of their age, gender or gender identity, religion, ethnic or national heritage, or sexual preference.

Marriage is a civil ceremony between two people who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other. It is celebrated by and within religions, but the celebration of marriage should not be confused with the civil act itself. 
Kent believes that we need to get beyond separating people because of their differences and recognize the beauty that diversity brings. At a time when between 40 and 50% of "traditional" marriages end in divorce, we should respect and acknowledge those who still dare to enter into such a commitment.

A woman’s right to choose should not be abrogated by special interest groups, political parties or religious organizations. The key word is “choice”; those who are against abortion should retain the “choice” not to engage in abortion themselves.

Kent believes we need to fix the State Legislature pronto. This means changes in personnel (bringing in new faces!) and structure, which will make our Legislature more efficient and less wasteful; it also means reining it in and forcing it to do its job. Kent will always put human rights before politics and will not be controlled or influenced by special interest groups that seek to limit the rights of others! Kent pledges that, once elected, he will not only support but also tirelessly advocate for these and other progressive reforms. (Back to Home Page)