True liberty – eye of the beholder?

RE:  Senator Melvin SB 1062  “True liberty is where you are free to do what you want to do.”[i]

I am tired of radical right-wingers like Senator Melvin waiving the flag and touting liberty when I know he isn’t for my liberty.  I


believe everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  That means I want my partner (of 12 years) and I to be able to marry in our state and enjoy equal rights.

We are volunteers in our community, pay our taxes and SaddleBrooke homeowner dues, and are both retired military members with 48 years of total service.  We are proud Americans, registered Democrats, and fly our flag almost every single day.  This act doesn’t define us as patriots, that lies in our hearts just as does our belief in individual liberties, the strength our diversity brings to our nation, and, the responsibility we all have for each other and the common good.

I don’t believe true liberty means you can do whatever you want.  That leads to anarchy.  True liberty means you may live your life the way you want as long as it doesn’t hurt others’ or infringe on their liberty.  It may be politically convenient for Melvin to pursue his liberty and ignore mine, but it is not patriotic.


Senator Melvin Can’t Rewrite the Facts

First, I’d like to laud Ms. Grimes for her editorial for holding our elected officials to task.  She may have a bully pulpit as the editor of the Explorer, but she is also a private citizen.  She was not only entitled to, but as each of us is, was responsible to share her viewpoints where she felt our politicians were not properly representing us.


In Senator Melvin’s response to Ms. Grimes, he said she was wrong to infer that he is “not working to represent, support, and make lives better for ALL the people” in his district.  When it comes to representing me, Senator Melvin falls incredibly short.  I live in SaddleBrooke, where he is well know for not wanting to hear from, or respond to, Democrats.  Keep in mind this is the legislator that said he could tell where the Republicans live because they are the ones flying flags out front.

Senator Melvin once again claims that he helped restore/protect funding for education.  This is absolutely false.  Arizona has had the highest cuts in per pupil funding in the Nation since 2008.  Not sure how this gets spinned into “restored funding.”He discusses the need for legislators to say “NO” to bad ideas.  Don’t suppose he is referring to his bad idea to store all the Nation’s nuclear waste in Arizona.  Not only did he propose this action, but he got the legislature to pass his resolution to the Federal government requesting Arizona’s selection as the dumpsite.

As for his assertion that “the majority of his district wants more liberty so that they can live their lives free from oppressive levels of government”, I suspect he is only referring to those liberties he deems important.  On June 29, 2013, following the Supreme Court decision on the unconstitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, Senator Melvin tweeted:  “The Left is making a frontal assault on traditional marriage & families, mainline churches, Boy Scouts & all conservative entities.”  I surmise from this that he does not support my right to marry my partner of 11 years.  So much for his belief in liberty and his constituent’s freedom to be free from oppressive levels of government.  Personally, I can’t imagine anything much more oppressive than legislating who someone can marry.

Senator Melvin is entitled to his opinions, but he is not entitled to rewrite the facts.  He is a Tea Party Republican who will do whatever is necessary to toe the party line…even if it isn’t in the best interest of the people of his district.  Thank you Ms. Grimes for sticking up for the little guy!

In the Public Interest

As a school board member and locally elected guardian of public education, I am concernedThomas photo med_2 that those who would dismantle it are making headway.  Senate Bill 1363 [empowerment scholarship accounts (ESAs)] currently working its way through the Arizona Legislature will siphon off even more funding from our public schools.  It further expands the Arizona ESAs Program to kindergarteners and increases the amount available.[i]  Both the Arizona Education Association (AEA) and Arizona School Board Association (ASBA) oppose the bill and are appealing a Maricopa District Judge ruling that taxpayer dollars may fund private schools.  This, after the Arizona Supreme Court found in 2009 that two similar school voucher programs violated the Arizona Constitution’s ban on aid for religious or private schools.[ii]

The 2011 law gave parents of special needs children access to public education monies and was further expanded for this school year, essentially doubling eligibility to 200,000.[iii]  Funds can be used for curriculum, testing, private school tuition, tutors, special needs services or therapies, or even seed money for college.  The program however, requires parents to waive their child’s right to a public education…a right that is guaranteed under the state constitution, in order to receive the benefits.[iv]

Only 362 students in Arizona had ESAs last year, but 92 percent of ESA funds went to private schools, in many cases for children whose parents could afford the schools without the assistance. For students without special needs, the program provides from $3,000 to $3,500 a year. As this is not nearly sufficient to cover the cost of tuition to a private school (which can be as much as $10,000), the program is unlikely to benefit students from low-income families.[v]  Last year, this voucher program took $5.2 million from public education funding. If SB1363 is passed, amount could potentially increase to over $20 million and public school funding tied to enrollment will likely be reduced.[vi]

Senator Melvin and Representatives Smith and Kwasman continue their campaign against public education by sponsoring this bill.  Senator Melvin has voted against public education at every turn, and he and his fellow legislators have worked to ensure a lack of accountability and transparency in the law includes assurances that no government agency is empowered to “exercise control or supervision over any nonpublic school or home school.” I’m not sure how any reasonable person thinks this is in the best interest of the public, but then, maybe that’s not their intent.

The right answer, whenever public funding is involved, is more accountability and transparency, not less.  It is why we have school boards elected by the public and it is why those school boards must abide by the Open Meeting Law. While empowerment accounts appear to place choice in the hands of parents, the choice is actually in the hands of private schools, which can pick and choose that they admit.[vii]  Taxpayers have the right to know how their money is being used, and what results it produces.  That is in the public’s best interest.

Time to Face the Facts!

Thomas photo med_2A Casa Grande Dispatch article dated April 26, 2013 and titled “Gubernatorial race: Melvin’s bid shuffles the deck in District 11” contained a misleading statement.  The sentence started with “Melvin’s education plan is built around giving every parent a voucher for $9,000…”

It is not true that the state provides close to $9K per pupil to public schools.  Per the Joint Legislative Budget Committee[i], K-12 (M&O, Capital and All Other) funding per student (not adjusted for inflation) has been less than $5K every year since FY04.  In FY11, the amount was $3,897 and the estimated amounts for FY12 and FY13 were even less that that.  In fact, Arizona leads the nation in cuts to per pupil funding since 2008 – almost 22%.

Senator Melvin has oft lauded the Arizona legislature (himself included) for protecting total education funding at over $9K per student.[ii]  Only half the funding however has come from the state.  The rest of it has been federal (some of it stimulus funds which have now gone away) or local funding.

Funding alone won’t guarantee quality schools, but neither will starving our public schools of the basic funds they need to operate, let alone excel.  In addition, our legislature hasn’t even begun to address (although the Governor has proposed $61M in her budget) the unfunded mandate to implement Common Core Standards ($156M for FY14 plus another $225M one-time cost statewide.) It is beyond time to face the real facts and take real action before it is too late.

Tough Love Solves Problems

RMM7259I moved to Arizona almost five years ago, after visiting family here for over 30 years because I love it here!  But, after five years, I also understand we have our share of problems.  One is legislators who are big on ideology and rhetoric, but low on facing facts and finding solutions.

Clearly from his guest opinion in the March 6th Explorer, LD11’s Senator Melvin either doesn’t know Arizona has problems, or believes they only exist because the “left-wingers” aren’t on board.  Here’s some facts that help describe the “wellness” of our State with regard to business climate and education.

FACT:  Arizona was recently ranked the 47th worst run state in America[i]

FACT:  Arizona’s business startup rate has been relatively high, but, many of these were sole proprietors (no other employees) who started a business because they lost their jobs. This ‘jobless entrepreneurship’ trend negatively affects job creation and the larger economic recovery.”[ii]

FACT:  In terms of job gains, Senator Melvin is correct, in the decade preceding 2012, Arizona ranked fourth in private sector job creation, while our population rose at the second highest rate in the country.  Keep in mind, that he didn’t take office until 2009 and any legislative impact he had on jobs, most likely didn’t take affect until at least 2010.[iii]

FACT:  Arizona’s most plentiful future jobs aren’t going to be “living wage” jobs unless something changes.  Most of them between 2012 and 2016 are predicted to be low paying:  retail sales, customer service, cashiers, waitresses and waiters, janitors and housekeepers, food prep and service.[iv]  Only one of these jobs (customer service) result in a living wage for a family of three if combined with another of these jobs. In other words, someone working two of these jobs still doesn’t earn a living wage.[v]

FACT:  Arizona’s Legislature’s “Balanced Budget” has impacted our wallets.  For example, Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) from fuel tax, vehicle registration and licensing, etc., is supposed to pay for roads and road repairs.  The state legislature has taken over $200 million of these funds from cities and towns, using money meant for fixing potholes to shore up budget holes instead.[vi]   Another is the $50M that was taken from the national mortgage assistance settlement in 2010.  It should have gone directly to families suffering because banks gambled with their mortgages, and the families lost – thanks to our legislators, Arizona families lost twice.[vii]

There is a strong correlation between well-educated populations and generally well-managed states, as cited by at least one rating source, so let’s look at education.

FACT:  State-appropriated funding for education declined to an estimated $3,780 per student in fiscal 2012 from $4,901 in fiscal 2008. This was a decline of $1,121 per student — or about 23 percent.[viii]

FACT:  Mortgaging the state buildings raised $735 million in immediate revenue, but cost us more than 63% ($465 million) that much in interest.[ix]

FACT:  In 2011, ALEC’s 17th Report Card, ranked Arizona at #36 on National Association of Educational Performance (NAEP).[x]  The 2013 Quality Counts Report ranked Arizona 43rd with a C- grade in the nation in educational policy and performance.[xi]

FACT:  Of the four school districts Senator Melvin cited as “outstanding”, only the Catalina Foothills United District was awarded an “A” grade by the Arizona Department of Education, under the state’s new A-F accountability system.[xii]

FACT:  There is no requirement to measure Arizona’s home school program and in fact, state law prohibits the state Department of Education from requiring testing or reporting of test results.[xiii] It’s anyone’s guess how well home schooling works in Arizona, and my guess is that not all of it is “great”.

FACT:  The Individual Tax Credit program favors private schools by a factor of five to one and the Corporate Income Tax Credit contributions have grown to over $55M in 2010, all monies not available to the State general fund.[xiv]

FACT:  Of the tax credit money given to School Tuition Organizations (STOs) for private schools in 2012, 63.2% of the scholarships went to children in families with incomes from 185% of poverty level ($41,348 for a family of four) to greater than 342.25% of poverty level ($76,494 for a family of four).  Keep in mind the law also allows these STOs to keep 10% of the tax credits themselves.[xv]

In his guest opinion last week, Senator Melvin said:  “we need to pull together and not engage in class warfare, including the left’s fixation of soaking the so-called rich.  By pulling together we can all succeed.”

With this accusation, he continues to be archaic and divisive.  Arizona is better than that.  We can all come together, but we need straight talk and inclusive action from our politicians.

A politician thinks about the next election, a leader things about the next generation.  Melvin says a leader shouldn’t mortgage the next generation.  We agree, but isn’t that exactly what he did with the state capitol buildings?