What is in the state budget?
Anybody who travels I-10 between Phoenix and Casa Grande knows that it needs a lot of road work. There are a lot of lesser-known items in this year’s budget including $89 million to keep that I-10 construction on track, money for potholes in northern Arizona, and even an investment in setting up an Amtrak route between Tucson and Phoenix.
As House and Senate Minority Leaders, Andres Cano and I convened our caucuses to develop our shared priorities for the budget, as representatives from across the state. Housing and schools have topped our list consistently this year. Working with Gov. Hobbs, we made historic investments into housing with $150 million to the Housing Trust Fund plus another $60 million to a new Homelessness Fund.
(Photo of legislators at the AZ Education Association’s Delegate Assembly)
K12 Education Funding — keeping up with inflation… for this year
For K12 education, we made it our top priority to fund the actual inflation gap – something that is often neglected in our state budgets. It took persistence and creativity, and we got it done to provide an infusion of $300 million, but those dollars will not be available next year. The bottom line is that this year schools will get about a 7% increase, even with the inflation rate. Hurray! Schools will be able to buy the same number of books this year as last year.
The results of last year’s budget showed that teachers received an average increase in pay of about 5%. The inflation rate was 9%, leaving our K12 schools still struggling.
Others who will continue to struggle with less than worthy wages include caregivers for the elderly and disabled; they received no increase this year. They are symbolic of the Arizona workers who have been left behind by years of tax cuts for billionaires and big corporations, which have been the priority of the Republican majority in the state legislature.
Within this framework of limited revenue, we made good decisions to make impactful investments.
(photo of women who testified for my bill, SB1675, fem hygiene products in schools)
The “Free Tampons and Pads in School” bill is in the budget!
One great example is the new funding to provide free feminine hygiene products in public school bathrooms. Over the past several years, wonderful advocates for school achievement and equity have explained in committee meetings that too many girls miss school days because they do not have these products in the school bathroom when they need them. We provide free toilet paper in bathrooms because that is sensible – it’s where you need it. The same is true for feminine hygiene products. Many girls have testified that this will be life-changing for them!
I am so very grateful to the many advocates for this issue who have helped to bring it to light in the legislature: Rep. Athena Salman ran this bill a few years ago, and Demetra Presley founder of Go With the Flow have provided invaluable insights and advocacy! Groups like Women4Women Tempe and others have been providing these products via volunteers and donations. They know the ropes, and can help make this new effort in the budget become the norm.
Gardens and Trees for Kids!
Two more good-news stories for school children are programs to provide for trees and community gardens on campus. We put aside $400,000 for schools to call upon non-profit organizations to work with students and parent groups to plant community gardens for the most engaging kind of nutrition lessons, and trees for shade. Trees also help fight climate change by removing ground-level ozone and carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen, effectively producing cleaner air. Childhood exposure to high levels of ozone can lead to long-term health complications, so providing our children with cleaner air in their school yards is important for their health.
Once again, we worked with wonderful organizations to bring this plan to fruition! Trees Matter, Chispa, Project Roots, and Tucson Clean and Beautiful were just some of the fantastic folks who helped us to write the bills that got these projects in the budget.
Some of the other smaller-dollar projects that are in the budget include:
– A few rural fire districts will benefit from the $5 million in the new Fire District Grants fund. Given that a new fire truck can cost $800 thousand, it’s nowhere near the $150 million requested, but it’s a start. Local rural firefighters are there for rescue missions, wildfires and in other ways to help Arizonans from all over the state. We hope to find a better solution as we work with firefighters to do so.
-Area Agencies on Aging will get $10 million to help low-income seniors with property tax waivers and to provide support like meals on wheels.
-A new $5 million to the Commerce Authority for micro-business loans
-about $20 million for rural community colleges
Going forward, we must do better for our state to meet our responsibilities to public safety and public education. With careful attention to statewide needs and fiscal corrections to make our taxes more fair for you, our results will be better preparedness for fires and all aspects of safety as well as a thriving economy with a great quality of life.
You can see my most recent video statement Trickle Down to Trickle Revenue on Twitter, Click Here.
Our Democratic Caucus is grounded in reality, not conspiracy theories, and we are focused on these four pillars of our Blueprint for Arizona (click): Education, Economy, Environment, and Equity.
As we work on the three big issues facing Arizonans– water, schools, and housing — we keep true to our values that You must be included in the governance decisions that affect our lives.
If you would like to set up a meeting, or if you are a constituent needing help dealing with state agencies, please call my office: 602-926-4870.
My office door is open!
Senate Minority Leader
AZ State Senator Mitzi Epstein
Legislative District 12 – Ahwatukee, Chandler, the GRIC, and Tempe
Office phone: 602-926-4870
Office email: [email protected]