This Week in Arizona Politics: 5 Things to Know

November 06,2017 | Triadvocates

1. The Arizona State Legislature’s budget analysts are predicting a budget shortfall that could top $100 million in the current and coming year, with corporate tax revenue coming in at its lowest levels since 1993. Excluded from that projection is $90 million in current spending that is technically considered one-time funding but appears to be an ongoing commitment by the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey. With that factored in, the expected shortfall next year hits closer to $200 million—assuming that spending isn’t cut. This all stems from tax cuts enacted in 2011, when the Legislature and then-Gov. Jan Brewer passed phased-in income and corporate tax cuts in an effort to make the state more competitive for jobs and business. Since then, those corporate tax cuts have cut more than $600 million in yearly revenue since 2014. According to chief budget analyst Richard Stavneak, state revenues for the 2017 budget year, which ended June 30, came in $19 million below forecast, with sales and individual income tax ahead of projections and corporate income tax collections $52 million below forecast. State tax revenue related to insurance premiums could also be impacted by Trump’s moves related to the Affordable Care Act and federal payments to health carriers.

2. A week ago, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake surprised the political world with a bombshell announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2018. Key party members are now scrambling to find a candidate that they feel can defeat Democratic U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema is a prolific fundraiser with a centrist voting record, making her a strong general election candidate. Earlier this year, former Republican state senator Kelly Ward announced her intentions to take on Flake in the primary and has since been endorsed by Steve Bannon and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. However, party leaders are not convinced she can win the general election and are in the process of vetting other potential GOP frontrunners.

3. Following on Gov. Doug Ducey’s initiative to promote the development of computer science standards in schools, the Arizona Department of Education is seeking public comments and is recruiting volunteers for work groups and focus groups. These efforts are designed to address a dramatic skills gap in relevant technology skills in our state, which are key to future economic growth and job opportunities for youth. In the 2015-16 school year, only 31 high schools offered Advanced Placement Computer Science, and only 438 students took the AP exam. Through a partnership with and Science Foundation Arizona, last year, the number of students and teachers participating in computer science programming dramatically increased, with much more work remaining. The Department is soliciting feedback on the process through a survey instrument here through Nov. 30. Please visit ADE’s Computer Science Standards Development page to access the applications to serve on the work groups and for more information.

4. In October, Gov. Doug Ducey announced the appointment of Carol Ditmore as the new director of the Arizona Department of Housing. She had been serving in an interim capacity since May 2017 when former Director Michael Trailor was tapped to lead the Department of Economic Security. Ditmore brings a tremendous depth of experience to the role, having worked with Arizona housing programs for more than 22 years and serving in various positions at ADOH under four governors.

5. Last week, the seven-member Arizona Supreme Court heard arguments on GOP lawmakers' challenge of a hospital assessment that funds the state's Medicaid expansion. While the lawsuit was rejected by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge in 2015, and the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld that decision in March, the Goldwater Institute maintains that the hospital assessment is a tax that requires a two-thirds legislative majority to enact (Proposition 108, the voter-approved measure passed in 1992, requires a supermajority any time the Legislature acts to raise revenue). As a refresher, the assessment was narrowly approved by the Legislature in 2013 after former Republican Gov. Jan Brewer assembled a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers. That fee paid the local match for an Affordable Care Act provision allowing the state to expand coverage to low-income Arizonans who earned up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The court challenge, if successful, could jeopardize health care for 400,000 low-income Arizonans who gained insurance coverage under the Medicaid expansion. The justices will consider the case, but did not indicate when a decision will be issued.

Drena Kusari Berisha (Lyft, General Manager – Southwest Region)

Please join us in congratulating Drena Kusari Berisha for earning the ATHENA Young Professional Award. Last week, she was recognized as one of the most accomplished businesswomen in Arizona, honoring excellence in her career, community service and mentorship—especially to other women. Drena is the first female general manager for Lyft, overseeing growth strategy, marketing and operations for the Southwest region. More than 700 people celebrated the 57 nominees, 11 ATHENA Award finalists and the three winners at the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce's 30th ATHENA Awards luncheon. Michelle Just, president and CEO of  the non-profit Beatitudes Campus, won the public-sector ATHENA Businesswoman of the Year Award and Mi-Ai Parrish, president and publisher of The Arizona Republic and, won the private-sector ATHENA Businesswoman of the Year Award.

For some truly inspiring words of wisdom, click here.

Earlier this month, Lyft announced its partnership with the City of Phoenix as part of the “First Mile Last Mile” campaign, which will help address one of the biggest barriers of utilizing public transportation: completing the last few miles between a transit stop and home. The program will provide commuters a quick and reliable way to reach transit stops, especially for travelers that live too far from stops to walk or bike. First Mile Last Mile is a six-month pilot program available in parts of north and south Phoenix. If successful, it could expand to other areas of the Valley. New Lyft riders can use the code PHXRIDES for $5 off each of their first four rides to transit stops. Existing Lyft users can use the code TRANSITPHX to get 20 percent off rides to and from select transit stops.

Attention, wine lovers: you don’t want to miss this event. The Arizona Vignerons Alliance is hosting its second annual Symposium and Grand Tasting event on Sunday, Nov. 19 at The Farm at South Mountain. The event will feature two wine seminars, a rosé picnic lunch and live auction, and a grand tasting with Arizona-certified wines. For a schedule of events or to purchase tickets, click here. Cheers!

Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital
has received an “A” rating in The Leapfrog Group’s Fall 2017 Safety Score, demonstrating the hospital’s commitment to delivering safe, high-quality patient care. This is the highest rating available to hospitals—and St. Joseph’s Hospital is the only hospital in Tucson to have received this grade. The Leapfrog Group Hospital Safety Score is a rating system designed to give consumers information they can use to make healthcare decisions for themselves or a loved one. The Leapfrog Group assigns A, B, C, D and F grades to more than 2,600 U.S. hospitals based on their ability to prevent errors, injuries, accidents and infections.

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