While he voted to put it on the ballot, Sen. Al Melvin is "leaning against" the 1 percent sales tax question that goes before Arizona voters on May 18.
"I haven't made up my mind yet" on whether he'll vote for the measure in May, the District 26 Republican from SaddleBrooke said Friday.
The first-term legislator said "those on government payrolls want this sales tax bad." Estimates of its tax revenue range up to $1 billion per year, with 60 percent of that intended to support K-12 education.
Melvin believes it'll raise less than $1 billion per year. And, "on the other hand," he hears from widows, retirees and others on fixed incomes "who don't want to pay more taxes."
Melvin cited a Goldwater Institute study that suggested a higher sales tax would cost 14,000 Arizona jobs.
"I'm worried about the loss of private sector jobs, and people on fixed incomes who can't afford additional taxes," Melvin said.
If the tax failed "about 60 percent of that … would have to come from education," Melvin said. "Year after year, education is the bulk of it. Even with the sales tax, we're going to require additional reductions.
"These are difficult times," Melvin acknowledges. "With the current administration in Washington, we're not going to come out of this any time soon."
Melvin does not support funding for all-day kindergarten, a funding reduction proposed by Gov. Jan Brewer. He said there are contradictory studies on the value of all-day kindergarten. "Don't hang your hat on one study," he said. "Most schools will continue with half-day kindergarten."
He'd like to see school districts and other local governments use inmate labor to maintain school buildings, bus fleets and grounds. This week, a program began that deploys inmates on cleanup of I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix.
"I'm saying, this is one thing to think about, this idea of inmate labor," Melvin said. "We have people who can do these things. These are things school districts, towns and cities are not looking at during these tough economic times. Why not look at them, and the savings would be in the millions."
Rest stops and state parks: Melvin hopes Arizona can "get the rest stops opened." He's had a number of phone calls and e-mails on that subject. "It's important to people, and tourism is big in the state."
He believes the private sector has a role in keeping state parks open.
"You can continue to try to operate them with government employees, with salaries and benefits, or with private entities operating some of them, at least the ones scheduled for closure," Melvin said. A bill in the Legislature would allow Arizona to put forth requests for information, and requests for proposals, for private operation of at least some state parks.
"No park, none of the 32, should be closed if we do this properly," Melvin said.
Texting while driving: Melvin continues to push his bill to ban texting while driving. "It's alive and well, and bipartisan," Melvin said. "I needed every Democratic vote I could get to save that baby." He expects the next vote in the Senate to be 17-11 for the bill. "The House is going to be tricky. Some people call it nanny-state legislation. I'm only trying to save lives here."
His health: Melvin has been treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. A recent scan gave "no indication of any cancer," he said. "It hasn't slowed me down. I'm one of the lucky ones. I've had no ill effect from the chemo. I've continued to work, without skipping a beat."
"I am having the time of my life," Melvin said of his position. "I am enjoying this job so much. I will work as hard as I can to get re-elected, and serve a full eight years in the Senate."
Process nuclear materials, pay for schools, senator says
Sen. Al Melvin believes Arizona can solve much of its state government funding difficulty by creating a site for the safe oversight and reprocessing of nuclear materials.
It's happening now at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., where the Department of Energy partners with the private sector in the "safe, secure, cost-effective oversight of our nuclear weapons stockpile, nuclear materials and the environment," according to the installation's Web site.
"I'm told so much money is flowing into South Carolina, it basically pays for K-12," Melvin said.
Atomic energy recycling facilities, handling fuel rods from nuclear power plants and other nuclear materials, operate in France and Japan. "If we had one in Arizona," with a combined federal, state and private involvement, "with a surcharge, I believe we could have that steady state source of funding for K-12, the community colleges, the universities," Melvin said.
"We would have to convince the citizens of Arizona that it's as safe a process as I know it is. It's a safe process. The key is if we have the political will, and step up to the plate and be THE state that will do this.
"I'm hoping we communicate that Arizona wants to be at the head of the line for consideration for a recycling facility," Melvin said. "It should result in lower tax rates.
"You have to educate the people that it's safe. Some people are going to say 'you're trying to contaminate a pristine Arizona desert.' That's not the case. I want to partner with Arizona Education Association, the unions, the trade unions, the electricians, the plumbers, and make this a truly bipartisan effort, to make Arizona the most atomic energy-friendly state in the union."
Put more inmates to work, he says
A new program has Arizona inmate work crews picking up litter along Interstate 10 from the Orange Grove exit in Marana to Phoenix.
Sen. Al Melvin, the District 26 Republican from SaddleBrooke, hopes the joint venture between the Arizona Department of Corrections and the Department of Transportation is only a start. He said "Operation Clean Sweep" keeps Arizona clean, provides work for inmates and saves taxpayer money.
Only minimum security inmates are eligible for the work assignments, after going through rigorous examinations, a release said.
"Inmate labor programs are based on the dignity of labor and the pride of workmanship," Melvin said. Inmates develop marketable job skills, a positive work ethic and good habits. Jobs include cleaning up trash on highways, painting over graffiti and filling in potholes, Melvin said.
He's hopeful all levels of government will adopt inmate labor as a sustainable means of benefiting the public, the budget and the inmates.
"It's a real opportunity for local government to try to help themselves in these tight budget times," Melvin said. "There should be no potholes in the entire state of Arizona, in my opinion."