Leaders Don’t Kick the Can

Yes, it IS a dry heat. In fact, with an average of only 8.04 inches of rainfall per year, Arizona is the fourth driest state in the nation. It stands to reason then, that water should be considered our most precious resource. Unfortunately, lax regulations, which allow unimpeded growth and out-of-state or even foreign land purchase and water pumping, are helping cause a perfect (dry) storm that we have yet to adequately deal with.

A recent New York Times Magazine article titled “The Water Wars of Arizona.” reported that few laws govern the extraction of groundwater and aquifers which are “unimaginably complex and incredibly fragile; and once tapped, can take more than 6,000 years to replenish.” In Arizona, aquifers provide about 44 percent of our water and are being “tapped” relentlessly. 

The more visible evidence of our dilemma though, is the bathtub ring around Lake Mead, the storage reservoir for Colorado River water which provides 40 percent of Arizona’s water along with allocations to California, Nevada and Mexico. Problem is, we’ve all been extracting more water than the river produces. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation now has modeling that shows Lake Mead dropping below the level of 1,075 feet and driving a federally declared water shortage, as soon as 2022. Even at this “Tier 1” shortage, Pinal County agriculture would lose about half of its Colorado River allotment, causing an estimated 20 percent of agricultural acreage to be fallowed.

The weather isn’t helping either. Smithsonian.com reported in 2014, that, “Warming has already contributed to decreases in spring snowpack and Colorado River flows” and “future warming is projected to produce more severe droughts, compounded by the region’s rapid population growth, which is the highest in the nation.” 2018 brought record-low snowpack levels to parts of the Colorado River Basin, making it one of the worst drought cycles over the last 1,200 years.

You would think then, that Arizona lawmakers would be “all over” ensuring we protect this valuable resource. Instead, most groundwater rights are still based on the frontier legal doctrine of ‘reasonable use,’ allowing landowners to pump as much water as they want as long as it is put to a ‘reasonable use’ such as farming. In 1980, Arizona became the first state to pass groundwater reform, effectively deeming groundwater a public rather than a private resource. Since then, there hasn’t been much regulation outside of the five Active Management Areas (AMAs) of Prescott, Phoenix, Pinal, Tucson, and Santa Cruz. These AMAs were established by the Groundwater Management Act as geographic areas that once had the most serious decline in groundwater levels. In many rural parts of the state though, farmers need only file an Intent to Drill notice and pay a $150 permitting fee to pump as much as they want. “In 2017 alone, one farm pumped 22 billion gallons, nearly double the volume of bottled water sold in the United States annually.”

It’s not like we haven’t seen this coming. In the report for the first Arizona Town Hall on water issues in 1964 (subsequent ones were held in 1977, 1985, 1997 and 2004), the 1963 U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper was quoted as saying: “Arizona’s water problem is grave. The beautiful scenery, fine climate and fertile soil, like those of other southwestern states, have combined to entice an even larger number of people to settle there, and water demands have grown accordingly.” That was 54 years ago and in that time, Arizona’s population has increased by over 720 percent.

Arizona’s 53rd Legislature in 2018 however, declared sine die with a non-binding resolution ticking off past water achievements and nothing for Lake Mead, or to crack down on CAP, or for water metering, or for desalination, or to stop out-of-state water transfers. They also failed to adopt a drought contingency plan (DCP) the federal Bureau of Reclamation wants wrapped up this year. Of the plan, Thomas Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources said, it “reduces the likelihood of Lake Mead declining to critically low levels and incentivizes the use of tools to conserve water in the lake so that reductions in delivery of Arizona’s Colorado River supplies are avoided or lessened.” The Bureau’s Commissioner, Brenda Burman “warned that if Arizona doesn’t sign on, she’ll face immense pressure to reduce deliveries to the state.” 

Kathy Ferris, a former director of the AZ Department of Water Resources (ADWR), says, “The Legislative session was a complete failure where water is concerned. We should be embarrassed. We are experiencing a two-decade-old drought. Lake Mead water levels are declining and we have lost the respect of our sister Colorado River Basin states for failing to take action to protect Lake Mead. “In rural areas of the state, finite groundwater supplies are threatened by new wells and unlimited pumping. Every year that goes by without action means we are further in the hole, and failing to take action is a grave failure of leadership.”

Real problems require real leadership. We don’t need our lawmakers to “go with the flow” but rather, to make the hard decisions to “keep the flow going.” This is a complicated, looming problem that will take much time, talent, and tenacity to solve. If ever there was a time when failure was not an option, this must certainly be it.

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We Shall Reap What We Sow

As a 26 year veteran, I repeatedly swore to protect and defend our country from enemies, foreign and domestic. As a war planning and humanitarian operations, master instructor to officers from all our military services, one of the key points learned from history, that we taught to our classes was that every action we take has the potential to plant seeds of reaction that will ripen many years into the future—either good or bad.

So, my concern for how we are ripping apart families on our border, is on two levels.

1. I am deeply saddened that, as a nation, we are so callous as to treat human beings such that, as Judge Sabraw wrote, “migrant children are not [even] accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property.”

2. We are undoubtedly planting seeds of violence, that will come back to destabilized our national security, from within and without, 10-20 years from now. These children who are being ripped from their parents will grow up deeply affected, as will the families and extended families, witnessing the news and sharing the pain within their communities abroad.

None of this is even talking to how most, now neutral countries, are viewing these acts and will be happy to treat any American among them with the same disregard for common humanity. For, if we are anxious to label ourselves as “different” from THEM, that allows them to accept that we are different enough not to be as human as they, except we will have proven it.

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Surest Route Back

I’m guessing that like me, you are wondering what happened to the country in which you were born, and in my case, the country I swore for 26 years to “support and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Our land of the free and home of the brave is under daily assault, from children being ripped out of their parents arms, to our dropping out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, (joining Iran and Eritrea as non-members), to insulting our allies while embracing evil dictators. Yes, we are on a bad trajectory. The question is, what can we do about it?
During my 26 years of Air Force service, I learned the keys to success were to take care of my people and stay focused on the mission. As then, the mission remains the preservation of our democracy and in my opinion, the road that leads to that end runs straight through a place called personal responsibility. Each of us has a responsibility toward each other, then toward the good of our communities, our state, and our nation. We do this, as Gandhi advocated, by being “the change we want to see.” This starts with each of us treating others the way we’d like to be treated, or even better, the way they’d like to be treated.
We also have a responsibility to participate in our democracy. That’s why I am working so hard to be your Representative in Phoenix. I may not be able to fix the dysfunction in D.C., but I can ensure better representation for the people of LD 11. I can work toward true fiscal responsibility, more ethical governance, and a focus on people over profit.
The problems facing our country didn’t happen overnight and won’t be solved quickly. We can begin to turn the tide by being diligent, steadfast, and focused. My focus is, first, on making our state a place we can all be proud to call home. That, I believe, is the surest route back.
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A Memorial Day Greeting

What is a good passing greeting for Memorial Day?

Many people think of Memorial Day as a holiday.  A day free from work, to gather with friends and family for a picnic and games.  Yes; it is supposed to be a day to “pause”, but not just from our jobs.  It is a day to pause and reflect on the many people who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may be here, and free, to share this time together.  So, obviously, “Happy Memorial Day” isn’t exactly the right thing to say.

images-1Unfortunately, our country has a roller coaster history on properly respecting our veterans for their service and sacrifices. One of the lowest points of course, was during, and after, the Vietnam war.  Those who fought were ridiculed when they returned, and forced to effectively fight another battle at home. This, just because they answered the call when our citizen-elected leadership said the cause was vital to the safety of our nation and our liberty.  Our Vietnam veterans did the job their country asked of them, despite the consequences and no matter their personal beliefs.  For those who survived, and the families of those lost, today no doubt brings back painful memories.  For any of us who has lost someone we know, in any military conflict, this is a difficult day.  Somber.  Reflective.  Thoughtful.  Certainly not “Happy.”

Thank goodness we’ve come a long ways since then.  During Desert Shield/Desert Storm, people began to recognize that no matter what they thought of the fight, the fighters weren’t to blame.  When called to go they do, and some who go, don’t come back. Those are the patriots we honor on this, and every, Memorial Day.  

It is also a day when we show our gratitude to those who’ve been personally touched by the sacrifice of a brother, sister, father, mother, cousin, or friend. This is also their day to quietly thank their loved ones for another day of living in liberty.  It isn’t something they will speak about, but they are all around us.  Millions have been touched.  On Memorial Day they live in a fog, with a sense of the past and of personal loss that you can’t see on their faces, but that weighs on their minds. 

Yes, the weight of this day is heavy and that makes it difficult to think of a greeting that fits.  Maybe the best we can do is to be a little more considerate and compassionate on this day of remembrance. And for ourselves, a grateful heart seems appropriate for the gifts the memorialized passed on to us; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

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To Be A “Best Value” State

Unknown-1Blue light special is a phrase Kmart used to use to draw attention to certain sales merchandise. It became synonymous with a discount or bargain, as in bargain basement.

“It’s difficult to remember…” writes Nikelle Murphy on CheatSheet.com, “that Kmart was once the envy of Walmart founder Sam Walton.” Experts say the problems with Kmart’s business model include a lack of focus on the core brand and that Kmart didn’t invest in updating its stores, giving a dated feel to the brand.  Sound like Arizona?

Governor Ducey’s and our GOP Legislators’ focus on tax cuts, corporate welfare, and privatization of our state resources, is attracting exactly that kind of company–low-tech and service industry jobs, that don’t provide stable, long term investments in updating our state’s infrastructure, and don’t look to participate in building thriving communities. They are offering Arizona as a “blue-light special”.

Take the recent $20M tax cut legislation championed by our Rep. Mark Finchem, to subsidize the failing business model for the Navajo Coal Plant. Governor Ducey allegedly approved it in hopes of finding a buyer for it. For his part, Finchem said “Solar and wind energy get tax breaks and compete with the coal plant. It’s kind of hard to compete when you aren’t being given the [same] taxpayer support.” He chooses to ignore that the Arizona Corporation Commission can regulate these utilities.  But, it makes sense Finchem doesn’t understand that tax breaks should be used to incentivize behavior beneficial to our communities and our state, because that hasn’t been standard practice in Arizona.  

Other examples of the “blue light special” mentality from our GOP state leadership are the obvious ones.

 1) Sweeping highway funds away for corporate tax giveaways instead of building turn-key modern infrastructure.

 2) Severely cutting funds to public universities, then threatening to put the Legislature in charge of overseeing them, as our Rep. Finchem tried to do this year.  (Just the hint has undoubtedly scared away potential partner researchers who see it as a formula for a nightmare bureaucracy.)

 3) Deep cuts in public education and JTED (technical and trades training). Quality companies need ready access to an educated workforce and good public schools for their employees’ children, not uncertified/amateur instructors, as approved by the Legislature in 2017, or buildings and busses that haven’t had reasonable maintenance in ten years and are literally falling apart around the students.

We must upgrade our brand!  Study after study has shown that companies don’t make location choices based on potential taxation levels, but on a host of other factors such as an educated/competitive workforce, modern infrastructure, and favorable climate.  That should be Arizona–a great quality of life at a reasonable price. 

That’s what Arizona will be when we change the leadership and take it out of the blue light special bin and put it front and center as a top-rated value. All it takes is lawmakers who are ready to lead into the future instead of being stuck in the past.

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Stop the Madness

Despite the fact that at least 75% of Arizona corporations pay only the minimum $50 in taxes each year, the Arizona Legislature recently worked to pass yet another tax credit to keep corporate tax revenue from reaching the state’s General Fund. SB 1392 would have given corporations, (who may, or may not be, physically located in our state), relief for the Transaction Privilege Tax (TPT), (which must be collected by the seller), for digital goods and services. I say “would have given” because after this article was originally submitted, the bill looked like it was headed for the junk pile, in the opinion of many experts, exactly where it belonged.

 The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) estimated it would result in a General Fund loss, but stipulated it was difficult to quantify the amount, recommending more time be taken to fully understand the impact. The Arizona League of Cities and Towns estimated the revenue loss for state and local governments would be in excess of $100 million a year, with a $14M decrease to Prop. 301 alone, directly impacting teachers’ salaries.

 As if that weren’t bad enough, AZ Senate President Steven Yarbrough is also pushing through SB 1467 to further expand the School Tuition Organization (STO) tax credit program for private schools. This despite an already 20% annual increase to what many believe is an unsustainable program.

 So why does the Legislature continue to work additional tax credits that shrink our General Fund and pull money directly from our public schools? I believe they view our K-12 education funding as the “gift that keeps on giving”. They know there is probably no other line item that enjoys more support from voters. If push comes to shove they think, we will agree to replace the funding they siphoned off, because we refuse to deny our schools the support they need. The funding they hope we’ll agree to of course, will be in the form of locally-supported bonds and overrides, increased sales tax, or some other less desirable solution (such as the Prop. 123 settlement).

 Far from supporting free market capitalism, the Legislature’s granting of all these tax credits plays favorites and hurts small local businesses. And since they are not regularly reviewed for return on investment, and once approved, have no sundown clauses to prevent them from continuing into perpetuity, they hurt our state’s future as well.

 These two bills are only the most recent examples of the fiscal irresponsibility of our current lawmakers. The only way we will turn things around, is to flip enough seats to bring parity and fiscal sanity to the Legislature. To do that, we absolutely need you. To vote. To volunteer. To donate. To do everything you can to ensure this madness ends.

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Size of the Pie

Anyone who has been to my website, seen my campaign materials, or heard me speak, knows that quality public education is a priority for me. Truth is, being a good teacher is hard work, and it isn’t getting any easier in Arizona.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As the Arizona Funding Pre-K-12 Education Town Hall just concluded, it isn’t about the percentage of the State’s budget “pie” that goes to public education, but the “size of the pie.” The K-12 education budget Gov. Ducey proposed is almost $1B short of the funding our districts received in 2008! It would take just 1/12th of the sales tax relief state lawmakers have granted corporations annually to bring us back to that 2008 level.

Coincidentally, $1B is what we need to bring our teacher salaries up to the U.S. median. With almost 4,000 classrooms without a certified teacher, 24 percent of our teachers eligible to retire this year, and our colleges of education not graduating enough teachers into our pipeline, this crisis is about to reach tsunami proportions. All self-inflicted damage, as our legislators fight the repeatedly demonstrated will of the people to provide accessible, quality public education.

Besides reevaluating each corporate sales tax giveaway, we should examine the education tax credit program that allows individuals and corporations to contribute to School Tuition Organizations (STOs), rather than putting their tax dollars into Arizona’s General Fund, another $94M districts schools miss out on each year.

This year’s bill, SB 1467, continues the acceleration of growth in public funding for private schools. It increases the maximum scholarship amount faster every year and expands the number of students eligible.

These STOs are “non-profit” organizations (If they pay their owners/directors enough salary, like AZ Senate President Yarbrough, they can’t make a “profit”) that keep 10 percent of the scholarship contributions. Individual tax payers, currently, can contribute up to $1,107 (versus $200 for a district school). Corporations have no limit on what they can contribute to STOs as long as the state-wide caps have not been met. For the Low-Income Corporate Income Tax Credit, the state-wide cap is over $89 million. It is important to note that the “low-income” designation for this credit means a family of four can earn as much as almost $83,000. The other type of tax credit is the Disabled/Displaced Corporate Income Tax Credit. This year, the state-wide cap is $5 million. Not surprisingly, both of these caps have increased each year.

With all the loopholes available to big corporations, at least 74 percent of them pay the minimum $50 in state income tax each year. When individuals and corporations get to pick and choose where their tax dollars go, the general fund “pie” is smaller, and our infrastructure, district schools, and other public needs suffer.

Learn more at www.LyonforAZ.com.

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